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Photo shows Bush, Abramoff at meeting

Authenticity of picture confirmed, but level of interaction unclear

From Dana Bash
CNN

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff accompanied a Native American tribal chief he was trying to sign as a client to a White House meeting attended by President Bush, a newly published picture shows and a Bush spokesman confirmed Sunday.

Abramoff's presence at the meeting came to light after Time magazine and the New York Times published a picture of the president with Kickapoo Tribal Chairman Raul Garza. Bush chief political strategist Karl Rove is in the foreground, and the lobbyist is dimly visible in the background. (See the picture on Time.comexternal link)

Abramoff pleaded guilty to corruption charges January 3. He agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in an investigation that knowledgeable sources say could lead to charges against a half-dozen people.

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House did not know about Abramoff's presence at the May 9, 2001, meeting before seeing the picture, but told CNN, "We now know that Mr. Abramoff attended the meeting."

The event was listed on the president's private briefing paper for that day as a meeting to thank about two dozen legislators who had passed resolutions urging their congressional delegations to pass the president's tax cut, which had not yet passed.

The president's paper, shown to CNN, did not include Abramoff's name on the list of attendees.

A senior Bush official insisted the administration does not know how Abramoff got into the meeting or on the White House grounds that day.

One of the attendees on the list given to Bush that day was Grover Norquist, a friend of Abramoff and a longtime friend of Rove. It is not clear if Norquist got Abramoff into the meeting.

Norquist heads the group Americans for Tax Reform, which advocates for a single-rate flat tax, and was helping drive an effort to pass the Bush tax cut. He arranged Washington meetings to thank local leaders, legislators and Indian tribal leaders for their help.

It was unclear what interaction Abramoff had with the president at the meeting, but a White House aide described it as a "drop-by," which means Bush may not have stayed for long.

Bush aides have previously confirmed that Abramoff attended holiday parties at the White House and said he had some "staff-level meetings."

Although it has been careful not to rule out the possibility that other Bush-Abramoff meetings occurred, the administration has refused to reveal, when asked by reporters, who at the White House has met with Abramoff and under what circumstances.

McClellan noted that meetings, just like photographs, are "not relevant to the Justice Department investigation" of possible bribes paid by Abramoff.

Bush told reporters last month that he doesn't know Abramoff.

"I've never sat down with him and had a discussion with the guy," the president said.

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