WASHINGTON – Republican lawmakers said Sunday that President Bush should publicly disclose White House contacts with Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who has pleaded guilty to felony charges in an influence-peddling case.
Releasing the records would help eliminate suspicions that Abramoff, a top fundraiser for Bush's re-election campaign, had undue influence on the White House, the Republicans said.
"I'm one who believes that more is better, in terms of disclosure and transparency," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "And so I'd be a big advocate for making records that are out there available."
The president has refused to reveal how much access Abramoff had to the White House but has said he does not know Abramoff personally. Bush has said federal prosecutors are welcome to see the records of Abramoff's contacts if they suspect something inappropriate, but he has not released them publicly.
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who appeared with Thune on "FOX News Sunday," said all White House correspondence, phone calls and meetings with Abramoff "absolutely" should be released.
"I think this president is a man of unimpeachable integrity," Pence said. "The American people have profound confidence in him. And as Abraham Lincoln said, 'Give the people the facts and republican governance perhaps will be saved."'
Bush adviser Dan Bartlett said on CNN's "Late Edition" that prosecutors investigating Abramoff have not asked for any White House records. "They haven't done that because they're not relevant," Bartlett said.
He rejected Democratic calls for an independent prosecutor to investigate. "Were going to let the career prosecutors do their job and I'll bet they get to the bottom of it," Bartlett said.
Bush's spokesman has said Abramoff was admitted to the White House complex for "a few staff-level meetings" and Hanukkah receptions in 2001 and 2002. The White House will not say how many times the lobbyist came in, who he met with or what business he had there.
Bush said he had his picture taken with Abramoff an unknown number of times, but he said he doesn't remember taking them and the two never sat down and had a discussion. Bush said he has had his photo taken with thousands of people, but that doesn't mean he knows them well.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., played down the notion that Bush was beholden to Abramoff because of a few donations. But Hagel said Bush should release the photos to avoid giving Democrats unnecessary political ammunition.
"Get it out. Get it out. Come on," Hagel said, adding the photos will eventually leak out anyway.
"I mean, disclosure is the real issue. Whether it's campaign finance issues, whether it's ethics issues, whether it's lobbying issues, disclosure is the best and most effective way to deal with all of these things," he said on ABC's "This Week."
Thune said pictures should not be released because it is clear that Democrats would use any pictures of Bush with Abramoff for political purposes.
"But I do think it's important that everybody understand what this guy's level of involvement was," Thune said.
Democrats have complained about Bush's refusal to disclose White House dealings with Abramoff, who represented six Indian tribes with casinos and several other clients.
The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, made it clear that Abramoff's relationship with Republicans will be an issue in this year's congressional campaign. He said the DNC plans to file a Freedom of Information Request with the Secret Service for all its records of Abramoff's entries and exits from the White House.
"If the American people will put us back in power in '06, we will have on the president's desk things that outlaw all those kinds of behavior," Dean said.
But the comments from the Republicans, who hold the majority in Congress, show that it's not just Democrats who would like to see Bush come clean.
In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday, 76 percent of those surveyed said the Bush administration should provide a list of all meetings any White House officials have had with Abramoff. Two in three Republicans joined with eight in 10 Democrats and political independents in favoring disclosure, according to the poll.
Dean said Abramoff is a "Republican scandal" because no Democrat delivered anything on behalf of Abramoff, even if the lobbyist directed some money to Democrats. If anyone wrote letters on behalf of Abramoff's clients, Dean said, "That's a big problem, and those Democrats are in trouble and they should be in trouble."
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada sent a letter to the Interior Department on March 5, 2002, on behalf of the Louisiana Coushattas, an Abramoff client. The next day, Reid's leadership fund got a $5,000 donation from the tribe.
After the show, DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney clarified that Dean meant that there is no evidence that Reid or any other Democrat took contributions in exchange for official actions