WASHINGTON – An adviser to President Bush said Monday that Bush's photographs in the company of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff amount to a coincidence and shouldn't be interpreted any more seriously than that.
"He doesn't have a personal relationship with him," White House counselor Dan Bartlett said of Bush and Abramoff, who recently pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from his lobbying practices and has pledged to cooperate with government prosecutors.
"We acknowledge he (Abramaoff) attended some Hannukuah celebrations," Bartlett said in an appearance on NBC's "Today" show. "Any suggestions by critics or anyone else to suggest the president is doing something nefarious with Abramoff is absurd."
Bush himself has said that he doesn't recall meeting Abramoff.
Both Washingtonian and Time magazines have reported the existence of about a half-dozen photos showing the two together, however.
Time reported on its Web site Sunday that its staff members have seen at least six photos featuring Bush and Abramoff. They appeared to have been taken at White House functions, according to the reports.
On ABC's "Good Morning America" Monday, Bartlett said, "I don't think it's a surprise to anybody that there's probably widely-gathered events where the president does photo-line opportunities."
The White House has not released any photos featuring the president and Abramoff, who was declared a Bush "pioneer" for raising at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign.
Contributions that came directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the American Indian tribes he represented — a total of $6,000 — were donated to the American Heart Association by the campaign just days after Abramoff entered his guilty pleas.
The White House, after playing down the Bush-Abramoff photos and the lobbyist's ties to the president, criticized Abramoff for breaking the law. "Mr. Abramoff admitted being involved in outrageous wrongdoing," spokeswoman Dana Perino said Sunday