White House Stonewalling on Bush-Abramoff Photos

From Holden:

Well, what do you know. The White House has up to a dozen photos of Chimpy and Abramoff but they won’t release them to the public. Sounds like they have something to hide.

Several White House officials have been briefed about pictures of President Bush and Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff taken since 2001 but will not release them on grounds that they are not relevant to the ongoing money-for-favors investigation, aides said yesterday.

“Trying to say there’s more to it than the president taking a picture in a photo line is just absurd,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. Bush, he said, does not recall meeting Abramoff and did not do any favors for the disgraced lobbyist.

Abramoff, who recently pleaded guilty in the growing bribery and corruption scandal, was with Bush about a dozen times when pictures were taken by the official White House photographer or other participants over the past five years, according to a source familiar with Abramoff’s legal situation. Abramoff, this source said, displayed at least five of them on his office desk and has told people the president talked about his children’s names as well as personal details about their schooling during one encounter.

The source said Abramoff has more than half a dozen photos with Bush, including one of the two men shaking hands, but has no intention of releasing them.

[snip]

[P]ublic photographs could damage Bush’s efforts to insulate himself from a scandal that has scorched numerous other Republicans. A vivid image of Bush shaking hands and smiling with Abramoff would provide fuel for news coverage and commentary, even if such “grip-and-grin” shots are commonplace for most politicians.

[snip]

Mary Matalin, an informal White House adviser, said the photos should not be released and that, if they are, voters are savvy enough to realize the images are not evidence of a Bush role in the scandal. A top White House aide said it would set a terrible precedent if the president were to release photos from private events.

But Democrats said that precedent is established. In 1997, congressional and public pressure forced the Clinton White House to release videotapes of Bill Clinton hosting meet-and-greet coffees with big contributors.

Abramoff was no stranger to the Bush White House. He had served as one of Bush’s top fundraisers and assisted the Interior Department during the president’s transition to power in 2000.