Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Frankly, Bush Says, He Doesn't Even Know Abramoff; Even So, the White House Says It Won't Release Photos of Them Together

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Frankly, Bush Says, He Doesn't Even Know Abramoff; Even So, the White House Says It Won't Release Photos of Them Together

Article excerpt

Byline: WILLIAM DOUGLAS

WASHINGTON -- President Bush tried to distance himself Thursday from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff while refusing to release White House pictures taken of him with Abramoff.

"I, frankly, don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don't know him," Bush said. "But I can't say I didn't ever meet him."

The president's remarks came during a wide-ranging, impromptu White House news conference in which he continued to defend his domestic spying program, embraced a Russian proposal to end the stalemate over Iran's nuclear activities and carefully interpreted a militant Islamic group's stunning victory Wednesday in Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Bush's recollection of Abramoff was fuzzy, but the high-flying lobbyist was well known in political fund-raising circles, including the Bush-Cheney campaign, which received a $6,000 contribution from him. The campaign donated the money to the American Heart Association earlier this month after Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges and agreed to help federal prosecutors in their investigation of possible corruption in Congress and the White House.

Since Abramoff's plea, administration officials have acknowledged that he met with some White House staffers but won't say whom or about what. White House press secretary Scott McClellan has said Abramoff was in the White House at least twice for Hanukkah parties, where he may have had pictures taken with Bush.

Administration officials want to keep any Bush-Abramoff pictures from becoming public to avoid giving political opponents ammunition that could hurt Republicans in November's congressional elections.

"Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean that I'm a friend with them or know them very well. I've had my picture taken with you at holiday parties," the president reminded reporters. …

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