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Abramoff, Armey: No Love Lost

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) may have overstated things a bit when he said recently that lobbyist-under-investigation Jack Abramoff “was not admitted to my office.”

Armey, now a lobbyist for DLA Piper Rudnick, spoke earlier this year at a panel discussion hosted by the lobbying publication Influence. At that event, Armey added that Abramoff “was one of the very few people who was simply not acceptable” to him and his office.

But, it appears that in the 1990s, Abramoff, then a Preston Gates Ellis and Rouvelas Meeds lobbyist representing the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, slipped into the Majority Leader’s office on client business.

A spokesman for Abramoff, in an e-mail response to questions about the relationship between the former lobbyist and the former lawmaker, said: “In the course of his advocacy efforts on behalf of Native Americans and the Northern Mariana Islands, Mr. Abramoff had several occasions to meet directly with Mr. Armey and many more occasions to meet with his staff.”

For his part, Armey said in a recent interview that he has no memory of working with or even meeting Abramoff. When the scandal about the former lobbyist first broke — leading to an investigation by a Senate committee and the Justice Department — Armey said he “studied his photograph trying to remember, because I was mortified at the possibility of having met with him.”

A grip-and-grin photograph of Armey and Abramoff obtained by Roll Call is undated but almost certainly from the ’90s. Armey said that a picture featuring him with Abramoff could have been snapped at any number of events over the years during which the former Majority Leader posed with hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

What both sides agree is that Abramoff and Armey have never been close — certainly not in the way that Abramoff was close to then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who was one rung below Armey in the leadership ladder. DeLay succeeded him as Majority Leader when Armey retired.

Those sources also emphasize Abramoff would have been in Armey’s office very rarely. In fact, they say Abramoff was never a frequent Hill dweller.

Although Armey’s office did work regularly with other lobbyists from Preston Gates, several ex-Congressional staffers and then-Preston Gates lobbyists say they don’t recall any meetings between Armey and Abramoff.

One former Preston Gates staffer remembers Abramoff attending a meeting with Dennis Stephens, a former Armey staffer and current lobbyist at Preston Gates, and Preston Gates client then-Gov. Pedro Tenorio of the CNMI in February 1998. Stephens did not return a call for comment.

“If Dennis Stephens said I have a client, it is not impossible that [Abramoff] came along for a meeting,” Armey said.

Armey added that at some point in the late 1990s, “Our guys got a tip from somebody in the State Department [and] the fellow from the State Department advised don’t meet with” Abramoff, Armey said. And if there had been previous meetings, they would have stopped then, he said.

The spokesman for Abramoff, Andrew Blum, said that Armey was helpful to Preston Gates clients, particularly CNMI. And it has been widely reported that several former Armey Congressional aides traveled to the CNMI — though not the leader himself — to learn more about the commonwealth.

News reports show that the CNMI at that time feared being included under U.S. minimum wage laws.

The Abramoff spokesman also said that Abramoff agreed “to allow the use of his suites at the MCI Center and Fed Ex Field to be used by Mr. Armey,” although the events would have been organized by other lobbyists at Preston Gates.

One source who is a former Preston Gates employee said records show that Armey and some of his then-Hill staffers attended a Nov. 17, 1999, Dallas Stars vs. Washington Capitals game in the Abramoff box at the MCI Center as well as a Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys football game on Oct. 4, 1998, also in an Abramoff suite at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, now FedEx Field.

But Armey, in the interview, said he does not like sporting events and can recall no fundraisers or any activities that he attended in the Abramoff suites.

Not that anyone cares now, but that Caps game resulted in a tie and the Redskins lost.

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