Friday, January 27, 2006

Abra Who, Now?

"The President does not know (Mr. Abramoff), nor does the President recall ever meeting him," -- Scott McClellan, for whom I daily discover new respect, in the act of losing it..

Joanne Amos has admitted that her company, Reflections Photography, was hired to remove the President from photos taken of him and Jack Abramoff. The White House of course has its own such photos which are just not important enough for anyone to ever need to see, tut-tut..

Reflections Photography received $140,000 from the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004. (That's right, received from. Ms. Amos was, of course, a significant contributor to the President's 2004 campaign as well.)


Blogger Management said...

When George Met Jack
White House aides deny the President knew lobbyist Abramoff, but unpublished photos shown to TIME suggest there's more to the story

As details poured out about the illegal and unseemly activities of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, White House officials sought to portray the scandal as a Capitol Hill affair with little relevance to them. Peppered for days with questions about Abramoff's visits to the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said the now disgraced lobbyist had attended two huge holiday receptions and a few "staff-level meetings" that were not worth describing further. "The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him," McClellan said.

The President's memory may soon be unhappily refreshed. 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. Over five years, Bush has posed for tens of thousands of such shots--many with people he does not know. Last month 9,500 people attended holiday receptions at the White House, and most went two by two through a line for a photo with the President and the First Lady. The White House is generous about providing copies--in some cases, signed by the President--that become centerpieces for "walls of fame" throughout status-conscious Washington.

Abramoff knew the game. In a 2001 e-mail to a lawyer for tribal leader Lovelin Poncho, he crows about an upcoming meeting at the White House that he had arranged for Poncho and says it should be a priceless asset in his client's upcoming re-election campaign as chief of Louisiana's Coushatta Indians. "By all means mention [in the tribal newsletter] that the Chief is being asked to confer with the President and is coming to Washington for this purpose in May," Abramoff writes. "We'll definitely have a photo from the opportunity, which he can use." The lawyer had asked about attire, and Abramoff advises, "As to dress, probably suit and tie would work best."

The e-mail, now part of a wide-ranging federal investigation into lobbying practices and lobbyists' relationships with members of Congress, offers a window into Abramoff's willingness to trade on ties to the White House and to invoke Bush's name to impress clients who were spending tens of millions of dollars on Abramoff's advice.

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. Nonsense, say others. A former White House official familiar with some Abramoff requests to the White House said Abramoff had some meetings with Administration officials in 2001 and 2002, but he was later frozen out because aides became suspicious of his funding sources and annoyed that the issues he raised did not mesh with their agenda. A top Republican official said it was clear to him that Abramoff couldn't pick up the phone and reach Bush aides because Abramoff had asked the official to serve as an intermediary.

The White House describes the number of Abramoff's meetings with staff members only as "a few," even though senior Bush aides have precise data about them. McClellan will not give details, saying he doesn't "get into discussing staff-level meetings." During a televised briefing, he added, "We're not going to engage in a fishing expedition." Pressed for particulars about Abramoff's White House contacts, McClellan said with brio, "People are insinuating things based on no evidence whatsoever." But he said he cannot "say with absolute certainty that [Abramoff] did not have any other visits" apart from those disclosed. Another White House official said, "The decision was made don't put out any additional information." That reticence has been eagerly seized upon by some Democrats. Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada wrote to Bush last week to demand details, saying Abramoff "may have had undue and improper influence within your Administration."

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." No evidence has emerged that the Bush Administration has done anything for the Kickapoo at Abramoff's behest.

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."
With reporting by With reporting by Massimo Calabresi/ Washington

2:12 AM  
Blogger Management said...

In his press conference today, President Bush suggested that the existence of photographs of himself and Jack Abramoff are no big deal and generally pooh-poohed the press's focus on the story. But our reporting suggests that the White House is actively involved in covering up and possibly destroying photographic evidence of the two men together.

Earlier this month, we were alerted to the existence of a series Abramoff photos at the website of Reflections Photography, a studio that does photo shoots for many Republican political events and sells copies to the individuals who attended the events and other members of the public through an online photo database. Reflections was an official photographer for Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign events and for the 2005 inauguration.

One of those photos was of Abramoff and Ralph Reed at a party for the launch of Reed's Century Strategies DC office in 2003. We contacted Reflections Photography and purchased the rights to publish that photograph and did so on January 11th.

Things weren't so simple with the late 2003 photograph of Jack Abramoff and President Bush.

When we went to the page for the photograph of President Bush and Abramoff, the page in question had disappeared from the site. Indeed, in the sequence of photographs from the event in question, each had a unique identification number in perfect consecutive order. All were there on the site, in sequence, with the exception of the one that was apparently that of President Bush and Abramoff.

I called back Reflections Photography and spoke to the woman who had earlier sold us the licensing rights to the other image. I told her there was another photograph we wanted to purchase the rights to publish but that it appeared no longer to be on their website.

She told me that sometimes pictures going back as far as 2003 had not been transferred over to the online catalog.

I told her that as far as we knew the photograph had been available on the site until quite recently. Then I asked if the photograph in question were available in their offline archives and whether I could purchase it that way.

She said that it was and that the CD in question was available for purchase.

I asked her if it would be possible for her to pull the CD. Then I could describe the photograph with the identification number in question to her to verify that it was the same picture.

The woman, who was helpful and friendly throughout, said she could and asked me to wait a few minutes while she retrieved the CD in question.

After a few minutes, she returned and proceeded to pull up the photo in question on the CD. Then, to her audible surprise, she told me the "photo was deleted" from the CD.

That, as you'd imagine, caught my attention. So I asked what that meant. The woman from Reflections told me that that this sometimes happened when the White House wanted to prevent the public from accessing certain photographs of the president.

When I asked her when this had happened she told she didn't know and wouldn't be at liberty to tell me even if she did.

This was back on January 11th. From what we could tell, the photograph had been removed from the site roughly a week earlier.

Now, we contacted Abramoff's spokesman Andrew Blum. And he declined to comment. We contacted the White House press office but they wouldn't return our calls. Since we can't get the photo in question directly from Reflections or get any of the relevant parties to speak with us, there was really no way for us to proceed.

But early this afternoon, I decided to take one more go at Reflections. I talked to company president Joanne Amos. We went back and forth over various questions about whether photographs at the site were available to the public and why some had been removed. When she, at length, asked me who it was in the picture with the president. I told her we believed it was Jack Abramoff.

Amos very straightforwardly told me that the photographs had been removed and that they had been removed because they showed Abramoff and the president in the same picture. The photos were, she told me, "not relevant."

When I asked her who had instructed her to remove the photos, she told me she was the president of the company. She did it. It was "her business decision" to remove the photographs. She told me she had done so within the last month.

So, here we have it that the president of Reflections admits that she removed photos of Abramoff and the president from their online database. If what her employee told me on the 11th is accurate the photos were also deleted from the CDs they keep on file in their own archives. So the scrub seems to have been pretty thorough.

Did the White House send out the word to deep-six those Bush-Abramoff pics?

Scott McClellan won't answer our questions. But this mystery would not be difficult to solve by a press outlet with sufficient juice to get a question answered by Scott McClellan. Has the White House or anyone working at the White House's behest instructed Reflections Photography to destroy or remove from its archives photographs of President Bush and Jack Abramoff?

Simple question. I doubt it has a simple answer.

2:13 AM  
Blogger Management said...

Bush Opposes Release of Photos With Abramoff

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2006; 2:48 PM

President Bush today dismissed the significance of photographs showing him with disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff and indicated that the White House would continue to oppose releasing the photos, which he said are irrelevant to a federal investigation.

"I've had my picture taken with him, evidently," Bush said in response to a question at a White House news conference. "I've had my picture taken with a lot of people. Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean that I'm a friend with him or know him very well." He said that "it's part of the job of the president to shake hands with people and smile."

Bush said the photos, if released, "will be used for pure political purposes, and they're not relevant to the investigation." He referred to a continuing federal probe of illegal lobbying activities directed by Abramoff, who pleaded guilty this month to felony conspiracy and fraud charges. A plea agreement said Abramoff bribed public officials, including a member of Congress.

The president said he has no idea how many photos were taken of him and Abramoff, and he declined to discuss reported meetings that the lobbyist attended with White House staffers. Federal prosecutors are "welcome" to look into those meetings if they believe they involved improprieties, Bush said.

Abramoff "contributed to my campaigns, but he contributed, either directly or through his clients, to a lot of people in Washington," he said.

Asked whether he personally has ever been lobbied by Abramoff or other lobbyists, Bush said: "I, frankly, don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don't know him. . . . But I can't say I didn't ever meet him, but I meet a lot of people. And, you know, evidently he was . . . at the holiday party: Came in, put the grip-and-grin, they clicked the picture and off he goes."

Bush said that "obviously, we went to fund-raisers, but I've never sat down with him and had a discussion with the guy."

As for whether he meets with lobbyists, Bush said, "I try not to." However, he said he could not attest to "never having met with one." He made an exception for meetings in which "people are helping on issues" such as promoting trade or tax relief.

"If you consider that a meeting, the answer is yes, I'm sure I have, in a room full of people, as we either thank people for success in policy or thank people for going out of their way to help get a piece of legislation passed on the Hill," Bush said.

Bush was also questioned at the news conference about a controversial eavesdropping program that he authorized after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and that critics have charged violates U.S. law. Asked if he would resist efforts in Congress to modify the law or write a new one to specifically allow the program, Bush said he is convinced he is already on firm legal ground.

"As I stand here right now, I can tell the American people the program's legal, it's designed to protect civil liberties, and it's necessary," he said.

"Now, my concern has always been that, in an attempt to try to pass a law on something that's already legal, we'll show the enemy what we're doing," Bush said. The program "is so sensitive and so important that if information gets out to how we run it or how we operate it, it'll help the enemy. And so, of course, we'll listen to ideas. But I want to make sure that people understand that if the attempt to write law . . . is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it."

Bush denied trying to "circumvent" the nearly 28-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant from a special court to eavesdrop on communications in the United States.

"I am upholding my duty and at the same time doing so under the law and with the Constitution behind me," Bush said. But he added: "The FISA law was written in 1978. We're having the discussion in 2006. It's a different world."

While FISA remains "an important tool," he said, intelligence experts had informed him that it did not fully meet today's requirements.

"I said, 'Look, is it possible to conduct this program under the old law?' And people said it doesn't work in order to be able do the job we expect us to do," Bush said.

Bush was also asked to clarify his stand on the torture of terrorist suspects by delivering some "Texas straight talk" on the subject in view of criticism by human rights groups.

"No American will be allowed to torture another human being anywhere in the world," he said, repeating the statement a reporter asked him to make.

2:14 AM  
Blogger Management said...

Studio that scrubbed Abramoff/Bush photo earned $140,000 from 2004 campaign
01/26/2006 @ 4:48 pm
Filed by Ron Brynaert

A photograpy studio which admitted to scrubbing at least one photograph of President George Bush and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was paid more that $140,000 by the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2004, RAW STORY has learned.

Reflections Photography president Joanne Amos told Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo that a "business decision" led the company to remove a photograph taken in late 2003 that is believed to feature Bush and Abramoff together. According to Amos, the photograph is "not relevant."

Another blog reported that Amos donated $2,000 to President Bush. The studio owner also gave $4,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2004. Steven Amos, vice president of Reflections, has contributed $2,000 to Bush and $4150 to the RNC. According to Political Money Line, each gave the RNC $750 on the same day last April.

A press release from July of 2003 shows that the photography studio was awarded a contract with the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign. "We are, of course, extremely pleased about this contract," said Joanne Amos in the press release. "This is an incredible opportunity for our company."

Two years ago, The Washington Post reported that the studio was paid over $140,000.

This link which lists itemized disbursements from the campaign in 2004 shows that the studio was paid $28,520 for photography services on February 26, 2004.

On October 1, 2003 Congressman Tom Davis (Rep-VA) gave a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives in recognition of the "achievments" of Joanne Amos in her 25 years of work in photography (pdf link). Davis also noted her contract with Bush/Cheney 2004.

"Joanne Amos now resides in the 11th district of Virginia; from this base she will be providing event photography for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign," said Rep. Davis. "This contract was won on the sheer quality of Reflection's reputation and will grant them the opportunity to show they can coordinate nationwide media coverage. Reflections will make full use of their extensive network of photographers and web-based technology to keep pace with the aggressive schedule set by the President's campaign."

A few weeks later, on October 31, Joanne Amos contributed $2,000 to the Bush/Cheney campaign.

(Update: Added more details to Amos' contributions, quote from press release and Rep. Davis paragraphs.)

2:24 AM  

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