GOP lawmakers say Bush should disclose Abramoff contact records

Monday, January 30, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Republican lawmakers said Sunday that President Bush should publicly disclose White House contacts with Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who has pleaded guilty to felony charges in an influence-peddling case.

Releasing the records would help eliminate suspicions that Abramoff, who helped raise more than $100,000 for Bush's re-election campaign, had undue influence on the White House, the Republicans said.

"I'm one who believes that more is better, in terms of disclosure and transparency," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "And so I'd be a big advocate for making records that are out there available."

The president has refused to reveal how much access Abramoff had to the White House, but has said he does not know Abramoff personally. Bush has said federal prosecutors are welcome to see the records of Abramoff's contacts if they suspect something inappropriate, but he has not released them publicly.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who appeared with Thune on "Fox News Sunday,"said all White House correspondence, phone calls and meetings with Abramoff "absolutely" should be released.

Bush adviser Dan Bartlett said on CNN's "Late Edition" that prosecutors investigating Abramoff have not asked for any White House records. "They haven't done that because they're not relevant," Bartlett said.

He rejected Democratic calls for an independent prosecutor to investigate. "Were going to let the career prosecutors do their job and I'll bet they get to the bottom of it," Bartlett said.

Photo ops

Bush's spokesman has said Abramoff was admitted to the White House complex for "a few staff-level meetings" and Hanukkah receptions in 2001 and 2002. The White House will not say how many times the lobbyist came in, who he met with or what business he had there.

Bush said he had his picture taken with Abramoff an unknown number of times, but he said he doesn't remember taking them and the two never sat down and had a discussion. Bush said he has had his photo taken with thousands of people, but that doesn't mean he knows them well.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., played down the notion that Bush was beholden to Abramoff because of a few donations. But Hagel said Bush should release the photos to avoid giving Democrats unnecessary political ammunition.

In another political issue, Hagel, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that Bush has more explaining to do on his domestic spy program and cast doubt on the administration's assertion of broad executive power.

Hagel said he is looking forward to congressional hearings on the legal justification for the secretive National Security Agency program. He remains unconvinced that Bush could allow the program without fully consulting with the courts or Congress.

Hearings Feb. 6

The Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings beginning Feb. 6; the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold similar closed-door sessions on the matter.

"If in fact the president does believe that our current laws are restricting him because of new technologies ... then he should come together with Congress and say we need to amend it," Hagel said on ABC's "This Week."

Bush has defended his decision to bypass a 1978 law that requires government lawyers to go to a secretive court for warrants to conduct domestic surveillance, saying the law is too cumbersome to deal with in a post-9/11 world of heightened security threats.

On Sunday, Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said Bush has ample constitutional authority as commander in chief and under a 2001 congressional resolution authorizing force in the war against terror. Debate with Congress could risk security by tipping off the enemy, he said.

"There's no way that we can confidently say that by having a debate about changing the law would not unearth new operational details that would only tell the enemy exactly how we're surveilling them," Bartlett said on CNN's "Late Edition." "That's something that is just unacceptable."

Hagel and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said they remain open to hearing testimony from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other administration officials but were uncertain that a president could have broad "blank check" authority.

They said both Republicans and Democrats were equally committed to fighting terrorism, and they rejected as unhelpful efforts by White House aide Karl Rove to make national security the top partisan issue in the November midterm elections.

"I think that I can make certain that we have the tools that are necessary to monitor calls from al-Qaida to U.S. citizens without going overboard and creating a situation in which, randomly, we are rifling through the e-mails and cell calls of ordinary American citizens," said Obama, who appeared on ABC.

Added Hagel: "National security is more important than the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. And to use it to try and get someone elected will ultimately end up in defeat and disaster for that political party."

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