White House Invokes Secrecy in Abramoff Lawsuits
- White House Invokes Secrecy in Abramoff Lawsuits
Pete Yost, reporting for The Associated Press
Washington - The Bush administration is laying out a new secrecy
defense in an effort to end a court battle about the White House
visits of now-imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The administration agreed last year to produce all responsive
records about the visits "without redactions or claims of exemption,"
according to a court order.
But in a court filing Friday night, administration lawyers said
that the Secret Service has identified a category of highly sensitive
documents that might contain information sought in a lawsuit about
Abramoff's trips to the White House.
The Justice Department, citing a Cold War-era court ruling,
declared that the contents of the "Sensitive Security Records" cannot
be publicly revealed even though they could show whether Abramoff made
more visits to the White House than those already acknowledged.
"The simple act of doing so ... would reveal sensitive information
about the methods used by the Secret Service to carry out its
protective function," the Justice Department argued.
"This is an extraordinary development and it raises the specter
that there were additional contacts with President Bush or other high
White House officials that have yet to be disclosed," said Tom Fitton,
president of Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that filed
the suit. "We've alleged that the government has committed misconduct
in this litigation and frankly this is more fuel for that fire."
A response by White House spokesman Trey Bohn referred to the
Secret Service, saying, "We have nothing to add to the USSS. position
as stated in the court filing."
Sensitive Security Records are created in the course of conducting
more extensive background checks on certain visitors to the White
House. In sworn statements accompanying the filing, two Secret Service
officers said the extra attention is paid to some visitors because of
their background, "the circumstances of the visits" or both.
The Sensitive Security Records were discovered in the course of
another lawsuit seeking similar records, the court papers state.
Another private group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in
Washington, also has requested Secret Service records of Abramoff's
White House visits. On Friday, the Justice Department asked for a
consolidation of the two cases. Such a move would take the CREW case
from U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth and give it to Judge Rosemary
M. Collyer, an appointee of the current president who is hearing the
Judicial Watch case. Lamberth, a federal judge for two decades, has
taken both Republican and Democratic administrations to task during
To date, the government has turned over Secret Service records
referring to seven White House visits by Abramoff - six of them in the
early months of the Bush administration in 2001 and the seventh in
early 2004 just before Abramoff came under criminal investigation.
The White House has released little information about the visits,
but none of them appears to involve a small group meeting with
Nearly two years ago, just after Abramoff had pleaded guilty in
the influence peddling scandal, Bush told reporters, "I can't say I
didn't ever meet" Abramoff, "but I meet a lot of people."
"I don't know him," Bush said at the presidential news conference
in January 2006. "I've never sat down with him and had a discussion
with the guy."
After Bush's comments, Abramoff wrote an e-mail to the national
editor of Washingtonian magazine saying that Bush had seen him "in
almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things,
including details of my kids. Perhaps he has forgotten everything, who
Time magazine reported that its reporters had been shown five
photographs of Bush and Abramoff. Most of them, the magazine said, had
"the formal look of photos taken at presidential receptions."
In an attempt to bolster its case, the Justice Department is
citing a lawsuit on a secret operation of the Cold War, the attempted
raising of a sunken Soviet submarine. In a 1976 ruling, the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit allowed the CIA to
refuse to confirm or deny its ties to Howard Hughes' submarine
retrieval ship, the Glomar Explorer.
"A refusal to either confirm or deny the existence of responsive
records is a well-recognized and accepted response in circumstances
such as these," the Bush administration's court filing states.
The Justice Department probe of Abramoff and his team of lobbyists
has led to convictions of a dozen people, including former Rep. Bob
Ney, R-Ohio, former White House official David Safavian and former
Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles.
Abramoff is serving six years in prison on a criminal case out of
Florida. He has not yet been sentenced on charges of mail fraud,
conspiracy and tax evasion stemming from the influence-peddling
scandal in Washington.
On the Net:
Transcript of President Bush's comments on White House Web site:
Justice Department summary of Glomar Explorer defense:
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