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Waxman Wants More Documents

Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is demanding hundreds of pages of documents from the White House that he says indicate the depths of contacts between administration officials and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

In an Oct. 31 letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding, Waxman said the White House has released to the committee 3,700 pages of documents detailing Abramoff’s contacts with the White House but has refused to release about 600 pages of other relevant documents.

The White House late Wednesday sent Waxman a response offering to discuss ways to provide the information without violating their privileges.

Waxman said the committee’s investigation thus far indicates that “some senior White House officials had regular contact with Mr. Abramoff,” and his letter demands production of the documents by Nov. 6.

The White House has produced several batches of documents to the committee regarding Abramoff’s contacts with White House officials. In an Oct. 10 letter to Waxman, White House Special Counsel Emmet Flood wrote that “at this point, we believe our document response is substantially complete.” Flood said the White House had provided a number of documents, but had withheld some materials that “contain internal deliberations among White House employees, or that otherwise implicate Executive Branch prerogatives.”

Flood also said some documents had been withheld because they reference “purely social encounters at [Abramoff’s restaurant] Signatures,” or because they are “purely personal communications (e.g. two roommates discussing their electric bill).”

Waxman said that even without the documents, the committee has discovered more extensive contact with the White House than the administration had acknowledged previously.

Waxman wrote that former White House political director Matt Schlapp provided “voluntary testimony” in a deposition that indicated the breadth of Abramoff’s White House contacts. “Mr. Schlapp estimated that he had ‘monthly’ contact with Jack Abramoff on subjects that often involved official government business,” Waxman wrote. “He also told the Committee that Mr. Abramoff and his associates ‘had many friends in the administration.’”

Schlapp’s lawyer, Reg Brown of WilmerHale, pointed out that his client has not been accused of any wrongdoing, testified voluntarily and did not request any protection in exchange for his testimony. As far as Schlapp’s involvement goes, “We consider the matter closed,” Brown said.

Keith Ausbrook, the Oversight Committee’s chief Republican counsel, said that despite repeated inquires into Abramoff’s interactions with the White House, Democrats have not turned up any evidence of misdeeds by White House officials, yet they “are still drilling this dry hole.”

Ausbrook said the joint staff report on Abramoff issued by the committee last year “indicted that Jack Abramoff had very little influence with this White House” and that “of 20 potential appointees who had his support only one was successful” in getting a job in the administration.

“The White House is a big place and there are plenty of legitimate reasons that people have contact with the administration,” Ausbrook said. “There is no evidence that the people in the White House knew about Jack Abramoff’s criminal activities.”

Nevertheless, he said that Republicans support the majority’s right to get access to documents that they are entitled to have access to.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said on Wednesday that the administration has been cooperating with Waxman’s investigation for months, and Waxman’s letter is “completely unnecessary given our long history of working with the committee on this issue.”

Stanzel said that while the White House is communicating regularly with Democrats about their documents request, “they send a letter to reporters in an attempt to score political points.”

The White House has alleged in a variety of forums that Democrats are more interested in investigating the administration than carrying out their legislative obligations, and Stanzel said Wednesday that the administration “has provided over 615,000 pages of documents to Congress in response to over 400 investigations or inquiries” and that “administration staff have spent over 138,000 hours responding to these oversight requests.”

Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s probe of Abramoff is apparently continuing. A Nov. 2 status hearing for Mark Zachares — a former Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staff member who pleaded guilty to accepting cash and gifts from Abramoff in exchange for helping the lobbyist and his clients — was postponed at the request of Zachares’ lawyer and the Justice Department.

In a joint motion filed last week, the two sides told U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle that “Zachares has been cooperating with government agents and prosecutors, including in several ongoing investigations. The government anticipates that Mr. Zachares’ cooperation will continue for the foreseeable future.”