The lobbyist Jack Abramoff asked for $9 million in 2003 from the president
of a West African nation to arrange a meeting with President Bush and directed
his fees to a Maryland
company now under federal scrutiny, according to newly disclosed documents.
The African leader, President Omar Bongo of Gabon,
met with President Bush in the Oval Office on May 26, 2004, 10 months
after Mr. Abramoff made the offer. There has been no evidence in the
public record that Mr. Abramoff had any role in organizing the meeting or that
he received any money or had a signed contract with Gabon.
White House and State Department officials described Mr. Bush's meeting with
President Bongo, whose government is regularly accused by the United
States of human rights abuses, as routine. The officials said they knew
of no involvement by Mr. Abramoff in the arrangements. Officials at Gabon's
embassy in Washington did not respond to written questions.
"This went through normal staffing channels," said Trent Duffy, a
White House spokesman, who said the meeting was "part of the president's
outreach to the continent of Africa."
A document from Mr. Abramoff's files that was released last week by a Senate
committee shows that in the summer of 2003 he pushed to sign President Bongo
as a client, even offering to travel to Gabon immediately after an August golfing
vacation to Scotland "with the congressmen and senators I take there each
The documents also show that Mr. Abramoff and his colleagues drew up a draft
contract that called for $9 million in fees to be paid to GrassRoots Interactive,
the small Maryland lobbying company that his former colleagues say he controlled.
Documents, including copies of canceled checks, show that millions of dollars
flowed through the company's accounts in 2003, the year it was created, including
at least $2.3 million to a California
consulting firm that used the same address as the law office of Mr. Abramoff's
brother, Robert. A separate check for $400,000 was made out to Kay Gold, another
Abramoff family company.
Mr. Abramoff, a Republican fund-raiser who once was one of the most powerful
lobbyists in Washington, has been indicted in Florida
on federal fraud charges. He is also under investigation by a federal grand
jury in Washington and two Senate committees.
The grand jury inquiry initially centered on accusations that Mr. Abramoff
had defrauded a group of Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars in
lobbying fees connected to their gambling operations, including steep fees for
work that was never performed.
But federal law enforcement officials say that inquiry has broadened, with
prosecutors examining other issues, including Mr. Abramoff's relationship with
GrassRoots and other small consulting firms and charities he controlled. Congressional
investigators have questioned whether he used them to hide income to avoid paying
taxes and to evade disclosure rules for lobbyists. Federal law requires lobbyists
for foreign governments to register with the Justice Department.
A spokesman for Mr. Abramoff had no comment on GrassRoots or the lobbyist's
contacts with President Bongo. Robert Abramoff did not return repeated phone
calls. GrassRoots has no listed telephone number in Silver Spring, Md., where
it had been based.
In a draft agreement with Gabon dated Aug. 7, 2003, Mr. Abramoff and his associates
asked that $9 million in lobbying fees be paid through wire transfers - three
of them, each for $3 million - to GrassRoots instead of the Washington offices
of Greenberg Traurig, the large lobbying firm where he did most of his work.
The agreement promised a "public relations effort related to promoting
Gabon and securing a visit for President Bongo with the president of the United
In seeking meetings at the White House or on Capitol Hill, foreign leaders,
especially those from small nations, regularly turn to Washington lobbyists,
especially those who claim connections to the government because of political
or family ties.
Billy Carter, President Jimmy
Carter's brother, was a registered agent for Libya
during his brother's presidency. During the Clinton administration, Anthony
Rodham, whose sister, Senator Hillary
Rodham Clinton, was the first lady, acknowledged that he had been offered
a six-figure payment by supporters of the president of Paraguay
to arrange a meeting with President Bill
GrassRoots Interactive came under scrutiny on Capitol Hill in recent months
when the Senate Judiciary Committee considered President Bush's nomination of
a senior lawyer at Tyco International, a former lobbying client of Mr. Abramoff,
as the No. 2 official at the Justice Department.
The lawyer, Timothy E. Flanigan, told the committee that at Mr. Abramoff's
suggestion he had directed $2 million to GrassRoots from Tyco for lobbying on
the company's behalf.
Instead, Mr. Flanigan said he learned last year that Mr. Abramoff had directed
the money to "entities" that the lobbyist controlled and that Tyco
was the victim of a "major fraud." After weeks of controversy over
his ties to Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Flanigan withdrew his nomination as deputy attorney
general last month.
Mr. Abramoff's ties to Gabon were first revealed in a letter that was among
hundreds of pages of documents from Mr. Abramoff's files that were released
last week by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which has conducted a yearlong
investigation of his lobbying for Indian tribes.
When he first approached Gabon, Mr. Abramoff was not new to issues involving
He had been a Washington lobbyist for President Mobutu
Sese Seko, the repressive leader of neighboring Congo, called Zaire at the
time. He also had connections to Gabon through a former business partner, David
Safavian, who was a registered agent in Washington for President Bongo. Mr.
Safavian, a former White House budget official, was arrested in September on
charges of lying about his ties to Mr. Abramoff.
The three-page letter released by the Senate panel was written to Mr. Bongo
on Greenberg Traurig stationery and dated July 28, 2003; Mr. Abramoff suggested
that he had unusual influence to arrange a meeting with President Bush.
"Without advance resources, I have been cautiously working to obtain a
visit for the president to Washington to see President Bush," Mr. Abramoff
wrote. "As you know, we were, in advance of the war in Iraq, able to secure
a tentative date for this meeting; however, the war canceled all such scheduled
Mr. Abramoff said he was willing to travel to Gabon to meet with Mr. Bongo
to discuss the contract if the government would arrange for a private plane.
"It must be on the basis by which I travel anywhere, being in a private
aircraft, which bears a substantial cost unfortunately," he said. "I
am confident that we will have a long, productive and warm relationship, but
good relationships are built on firm understandings at the outset."
Other documents obtained by The New York Times show that Mr. Abramoff and his
colleagues prepared two draft agreements, both dated Aug. 7, 2003, that outlined
the lobbying plan for Gabon.
One called for GrassRoots to receive $9 million in lobbying fees; the other
called for Greenberg Traurig to receive $1 million, all of it in 2003.
A spokeswoman for Greenberg Traurig said the firm had no comment. "We
don't comment on whom we do or don't represent," said Jill Perry, a spokeswoman
for the firm, which forced Mr. Abramoff to resign last year.
Maryland state records show that GrassRoots were established in 2003 by Edward
B. Miller, a Republican lawyer who is now deputy chief of staff to Gov. Robert
L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland. Samuel Hook, a former partner of Mr. Abramoff from
Greenberg Traurig, took over it in September 2003.
Mr. Ehrlich's office has said that Mr. Miller is cooperating in the Justice
Department investigation. Aron Raskas, a lawyer speaking for Mr. Miller, said
Mr. Miller had no knowledge of any project involving Gabon.
Mr. Hook's lawyer, Alyza D. Lewin, said that "Mr. Abramoff solely controlled
G.R.I.," a reference to GrassRoots Interactive.