By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Jack Abramoff picture scrub has taken a new turn. Yesterday President Bush said photos of himself with the lobbyist Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to charges involving public corruption in a scandal thats ensnaring a wider and wider circle of lawmakers, were no big deal.
Bush was just doing what a president does, he said: "Shake hands with people and smile."
"I had my picture taken with him evidently," Bush told a White House press conference yesterday. "I've had my picture taken with a lot of people. Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean that I'm a friend with them or know them very well." Bush also noted, "Those pictures will be used for pure political purposes and they're not relevant to the investigation."
However, Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo found a 2003 photo of Abramoff and Bush on the site of a company called Reflections Photography, among numerous archived Republican political photos. Marshall identified the URL where the pic was supposed to be, but found it gone. All the other pics were there, numbered in sequence, but the Bush-Abramoff photo was missing.
When Marshall called Reflections, the helpful woman answering the phone set out to find the photo for him, but to no avail. Because certain photos can only be obtained on a CD, Marshall asked if it was possible to get the Bush-Abramoff photo that way. Most obligingly, the woman pulled the CD, and then, according to Marshall, with a note o astonishment in her voice, said the photo of Bush and Abramoff "was deleted.'' Marshall asked why, and the woman said sometimes that happened because the White House wanted a certain photo removed from the file.
Marshall then called Abramoff's office. No comment.
The White House didn't return his calls.
Marshall phoned Joanne Amos, the company president, who explained that photographspluralhad been removed because they showed Abramoff and President Bush together. Why? Because they are "not relevant," Amos told him. Marhsall asked who told her to scrub the pics, and Amos further explained it was her "business decision."