Despite Little Scottie’s repeated claims that Chimpy does not know Jack Abramoff, someone is shopping around several photos of the two together.
They were first shown to The Washingtonian.
The Washingtonian has seen five photos of the President with Abramoff or his family. One photo shows the President and Abramoff shaking hands at a meeting in the Old Executive Office Building, where a bearded-Abramoff introduced Bush to several of the lobbyist’s native-American clients.
Sources say the photographs are being kept safe. Abramoff would tell prosecutors, if asked, that not only did he know the President, but the President knew the names of Abramoff’s children and asked about them during their meetings. At one such photo session, Bush discussed the fact that both he and Abramoff were fathers of twins.
Then Time took a gander.
TIME has seen five photographs of Abramoff and the President that suggest a level of contact between them that Bush’s aides have downplayed. While TIME’s source refused to provide the pictures for publication, they are likely to see the light of day eventually because celebrity tabloids are on the prowl for them. And that has been a fear of the Bush team’s for the past several months: that a picture of the President with the admitted felon could become the iconic image of direct presidential involvement in a burgeoning corruption scandal—like the shots of President Bill Clinton at White House coffees for campaign contributors in the mid-1990s.
In one shot that TIME saw, Bush appears with Abramoff, several unidentified people and Raul Garza Sr., a Texan Abramoff represented who was then chairman of the Kickapoo Indians, which owned a casino in southern Texas. Garza, who is wearing jeans and a bolo tie in the picture, told TIME that Bush greeted him as “Jefe,” or “chief” in Spanish. Another photo shows Bush shaking hands with Abramoff in front of a window and a blue drape. The shot bears Bush’s signature, perhaps made by a machine. Three other photos are of Bush, Abramoff and, in each view, one of the lobbyist’s sons (three of his five children are boys). A sixth picture shows several Abramoff children with Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is now pushing to tighten lobbying laws after declining to do so last year when the scandal was in its early stages.
Most of the pictures have the formal look of photos taken at presidential receptions. The images of Bush, Abramoff and one of his sons appear to be the rapid-fire shots—known in White House parlance as clicks—that the President snaps with top supporters before taking the podium at fund-raising receptions.
Abramoff was once in better graces at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, having raised at least $100,000 for the President’s re-election campaign. During 2001 and 2002, his support for Republicans and connections to the White House won him invitations to Hanukkah receptions, each attended by 400 to 500 people. McClellan has said Abramoff may have been present at “other widely attended” events. He was also admitted to the White House complex for meetings with several staff members, including one with presidential senior adviser Karl Rove, one of the most coveted invitations in Washington.
Michael Scanlon, who is Abramoff’s former partner and has pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a Congressman, in 2001 told the New Times of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that Abramoff had “a relationship” with the President. “He doesn’t have a bat phone or anything, but if he wanted an appointment, he would have one,” Scanlon said.
Garza, the bolo-wearing former chairman of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, has fond memories of his session with Bush, which he said was held in 2001 in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House. According to e-mails in the hands of investigators, the meeting was arranged with the help of Abramoff and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. In an April 18, 2001, e-mail to Abramoff, Norquist wrote that he would be “honored” if Abramoff “could come to the White House meeting.” Garza—known in his native Kickapoo language as Makateonenodua, or black buffalo—is under federal indictment for allegedly embezzling more than $300,000 from his tribe. Through his spokesman, Garza said that during the session, Bush talked about policy matters and thanked those present for supporting his agenda, then took questions from the audience of about two dozen people. Garza told TIME, “We were very happy that Jack Abramoff helped us to be with the President. Bush was in a very good mood—very upbeat and positive.”
Three attendees who spoke to TIME recall that Abramoff was present, and three of them say that’s where the picture of Bush, Abramoff and the former Kickapoo chairman was taken. The White House has a different description of the event Garza attended. “The President stopped by a meeting with 21 state legislators and two tribal leaders,” spokeswoman Erin Healy said. “Available records show that Mr. Abramoff was not in attendance.”