Records released by the Secret Service on Wednesday document two visits to the White House by Jack Abramoff, including a trip only two days before deputy Interior secretary J. Steven Griles was nominated to his position.
Abramoff visited the White House on March 6, 2001, one of the logs shows. On March 8, 2001, President Bush announced Griles, a former lobbyist, as his nominee for the second highest position as the Interior Department.
And just seven days before the announcement, Abramoff met personally with Griles. On March 1, 2001, long before anyone knew about the nomination, Abramoff shared "strategic" advice with Griles about Indian and other issues.
"You definitely made another friend," Abramoff was told in an e-mail right after the meeting.
The fateful encounter led to a relationship that is now the subject of two investigations. The Department of Justice, in a criminal probe, and the Interior Department, in an internal probe, are trying to determine the extent of Abramoff's contacts with Griles, who is accused of intervening in matters affecting Abramoff's wealthy
The Secret Service logs were released as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. While incomplete -- the White House has acknowledged several more visits -- they are among the earliest evidence of Abramoff's campaign to influence the new Bush administration.
According to e-mails released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the disgraced lobbyist sought to place candidates of his liking in important positions at Interior. Stories published today by The Washington Post and The New York Times disclose, for the first time, that Abramoff spoke with chief White House political aide Karl Rove about two potential appointments.
According to the reports, neither person was given jobs at Interior. But the stories fail to highlight the connection between Abramoff and Griles, who was confirmed to his post in July 2001 and quickly became known as "our guy" to members of Abramoff's lobbying team.
"I have a call into our guy Steve Griles," one of Abramoff's associates said in an e-mail on July 18, 2001, just five days after the Senate confirmed Griles.
Griles "is the one who gets everything done anyway," Abramoff said in an e-mail a couple months later on September 20, 2001, shortly before Abramoff attended a private, social dinner with Griles, former Interior Secretary Norton and other top Bush officials. Tribal leaders who were clients of Abramoff also attended.
A close associate of Norton's acted as a conduit for Abramoff's entreaties with Griles. Italia Federici, who worked on Norton's failed 1996 Senate campaign, was the executive director of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a group that Norton helped create.
Norton, who resigned in March, denied her department's decisions on Indian issues were influenced by Abramoff. She has said her interactions with Federici were social in nature.
At a Senate Indian Affairs Committee last November, Griles vehemently denied intervening on Abramoff's behalf. Mike Rossetti, a former Interior appointee who is now a lobbyist for tribes and other clients, contradicted Griles, who appeared frustrated by the allegations laid against him.
Griles and Federici, who testified at a hearing a week later, both faced harsh questioning from Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the committee. McCain cited numerous e-mail messages
that linked Griles with Federici and Abramoff, but Griles had trouble recalling any meetings or communications he may have had with Federici and Abramoff.
The second Secret Service log released yesterday records a White House visit on January 20, 2004. According to news reports, Abramoff met with an official at the Office of Management and Budget to discuss the Old Post Office building in downtown Washington. Abramoff had hoped to "use" one of his tribal clients to
start a project at the property, according to documents filed in federal court.
"What was Jack Abramoff doing at the White House? With whom did he meet? The public deserves to know answers to these questions," said Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, the public interest group that sued for the records.
Secret Service Logs:
White House Visits by Jack Abramoff
(May 10, 2006)
Interior Department Profile:Deputy Secretary: J.
(March 9, 2001)