Abramoff Scandal
Bush says photos with Abramoff not 'relevant' to probe

President Bush said on Thursday that he welcomed the federal probe of Jack Abramoff but adamantly refused to release photographs that place him with the disgraced lobbyist.

Addressing the scandal for the second time in recent weeks, Bush didn't deny the existence of the photos. "I had my picture taken with him, evidently," he said. "I've had my picture taken with a lot of people."

But during a mid-morning press conference, the president said the photos weren't "relevant" to the ongoing investigation. He denied knowing Abramoff personally even though the Republican insider raised more than $100,000 for Bush's re-election campaign and attended several events and meetings at the White House.

"Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean that I'm a friend with them or know them very well," Bush said. "I don't know him," he added, when asked again about his relationship with the man who pleaded guilty to defrauding tribes and attempting to bribe at least one member of Congress.

For the first time, Bush acknowledged that the probe has touched Capitol Hill. Several Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the deposed House majority leader and close ally of the White House, are being scrutinized for their ties to Abramoff.

But Bush repeated his earlier claim, made in December, that Abramoff gave money to Democrats as well as Republicans. "And the man contributed to my campaigns, but he contributed, either directly or through his clients, to a lot of people in Washington," Bush told reporters.

And should the investigation hit closer to home, Bush said he was open to the attention. "There is a serious investigation going on by federal prosecutors, and that's their job. And they will -- if they believe something was done inappropriately in the White House, they'll come and look, and they're welcome to do so," the president said.

The repeated questions were the latest the White House has faced since the scandal exploded with the guilty pleas of Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, a former spokesperson for DeLay who also admitted to defrauding tribes. The two men are cooperating with federal prosecutors in what has become the biggest corruption probe in Washington in decades.

The White House has sought to isolate itself from the controversy. But with Abramoff claiming close ties with Karl Rove, Bush's top political strategist, and other Republicans close to Bush, that has been somewhat hard to achieve.

Democrats have seized on the connections. Yesterday, they called on the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutorto oversee the probe.

"The American people deserve an open, unbiased investigation into this matter," said Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colorado). "Appointing a special counsel will begin the process of restoring America's faith in government."

Salazar was elected to the seat vacated by former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado), who started the hearings into Abramoff's lobbying activities back in September 2004.

Before it ended, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee's inquiry touched the Bush administration. Former deputy Interior secretary J. Steven Griles was accused by a former colleague of intervening on tribal matters at the behest of Abramoff.

Griles denied any wrongdoing but is now being investigated by the Department of Justice, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. After leaving the administration, Griles started his own lobbying firm and represents at least two tribes on environmental matters.

As for the White House, officials admit Abramoff attended a "few" staff level meetings. But they won't disclose who met with Abramoff or what they discussed.

Abramoff repeatedly tried to get the White House to intervene on tribal matters but it didn't always work. At one point, his former assistant -- who now works for Rove -- flatly told him the White House wasn't going to get involved with a proposed tribal casino in Louisiana that threatened his clients.

President Bush Press Conference:
Excerpts | Full Transcript | Video

Relevant Documents:
US v. Abramoff | Abramoff Plea Agreement | Department of Justice Press Conference | US v. Scanlon Scanlon Plea Deal | Attachment

November 17, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Exhibits

November 2, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Exhibits | Witness List / Testimony

June 22, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Exhibits 1 | Exhibits 2 | Witness List / Testimony

November 17, 2004 Hearing:
Video | Exhibits | Witness List / Testimony

September 29, 2004 Hearing:
Video | Exhibits | Witness List / Testimony