March 8, 2006

Abramoff says he worked with top Republicans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff said in the latest issue of Vanity Fair magazine that he worked closely with many top Republicans, despite their claims to the contrary.

"Any important Republican who comes out and says they didn't know me is almost certainly lying," he said in the magazine's April edition, released to reporters on Wednesday.

Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges in January and is cooperating with prosecutors in a corruption probe that could implicate lawmakers and officials across Washington.

In his plea, he admitted that he showered golf trips, sports tickets and other gifts on lawmakers in return for actions that would help his clients.

In the article, Abramoff complains that many of those who used to work closely with him now claim that they never knew him.

"You're really no one in this town until you haven't met me," he said.

E-mail and other subpoenaed records will eventually prove that he worked closely with them, he said.

The magazine features photographs of Abramoff with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former President Ronald Reagan, whom he met when he was president of the College Republicans.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman ate dinner at Abramoff's house and forced a Democratic appointee out of the State Department for him, Vanity Fair said.

Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said: "Jack Abramoff is someone that the chairman has known in various capacities during his time in Washington."

Abramoff said he did not spend much time lobbying DeLay because he knew that the Texas Republican would support his issues, but they talked about other subjects.


"We would sit and talk about the Bible. We would sit and talk about opera. We would sit and talk about golf. I mean, we talked about philosophy and politics," Abramoff said.

Abramoff also said Montana Republican Sen. Conrad Burns was especially cooperative.

"Every appropriation we wanted we got," he said. "Our staffs were as close as they could be."

Spokesmen for Burns and DeLay were not immediately available for comment.

The Abramoff scandal has prompted lawmakers to tighten lobbying regulations and return or donate to charity than $1 million in campaign contributions.

Lawmakers from both parties received campaign cash from Abramoff or his clients, although Abramoff only worked directly with Republicans.

"The exposure of my lobbying practice, the absurd amount of media coverage, and the focus, for the first time, on this sausage-making factory that we call Washington will ultimately help reform the system, or at least so I hope," he said.