Based on incomplete visitor logs, Brooks falsely claimed Abramoff visited White House "twice"
New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed that Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff visited the White House only "twice, in 2001 and 2004," citing recently released Secret Service visitor logs. But as Media Matters for America previously noted, the White House has acknowledged several Abramoff visits not mentioned in the logs, and the White House and the Secret Service have both admitted that the records released "would not present a complete picture of Abramoff's" visits.
During the Public Broadcasting Service's live coverage of the Senate hearing on the nomination of Gen. Michael V. Hayden for CIA director, New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed that disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff visited the White House "twice, in 2001 and 2004," citing recently released Secret Service visitor logs. But as Media Matters for America previously noted, the White House has acknowledged several Abramoff visits not mentioned in the logs, and the White House and the Secret Service have both admitted that the records released "would not present a complete picture of Abramoff's" visits.
On May 10, the Secret Service released the computerized records in response to a lawsuit filed by the conservative group Judicial Watch.
As the Associated Press reported on May 10, the visits noted in the released Secret Service logs "occurred on Jan. 20, 2004, the day President Bush delivered his State of the Union address, and on March 6, 2001." As the AP further noted, "[then-]Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan has said that Abramoff attended Hanukkah receptions at the White House in 2001 and 2002, and some additional staff-level meetings." Neither of the Hanukkah receptions was mentioned in the released records.
On February 12, The New York Times published a photograph -- taken May 9, 2001 -- showing "Abramoff looking on from the background as Mr. Bush greets" Chief Raul Garza of the Kickapoo American Indian tribe of southwest Texas at the Eisenhower [Old] Executive Office Building "on the White House grounds." This meeting also did not appear in the released records.
In its May 10 article, the AP noted that Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur "said the computerized logs have never been considered a complete record of access to the White House and the Old Executive Office Building." Additionally, during his May 2 press gaggle, McClellan cautioned reporters not to interpret the logs as "a complete historical record" of Abramoff's White House visits.
The New York Times further reported on May 11 that two anonymous administration officials "said the White House had decided that the settlement of the [Judicial Watch] lawsuit did not require other, more complete visitor logs to be made public." According to the Times, these same officials "said the more complete logs ... would have identified the other visits by Mr. Abramoff."
Moreover, according to a Judicial Watch statement, the logs released by the Secret Service "appear to be incomplete," containing only the date of each visit, and the times Abramoff entered and exited the White House. According to the statement:
White House Secret Service logs previously obtained by Judicial Watch from the Clinton administration provided additional details such as the "Visitee" and "Room Number," along with the name of the person who requested the visit. The Secret Service had agreed to provide the documents without redaction. Moreover, the two documents provided are not consistent with each other in terms of format and content.
Brooks made his false claim in response to a question by PBS anchor Jim Lehrer, who asked him if the Bush administration's agreement to brief the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic spying activities, in preparation for the Hayden hearing, would end the previous practice of limited briefings only to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and to the chairs and ranking members of each legislative body's Intelligence Committee. Arguing that "there's a genetic predisposition in the executive branch not to spread information," Brooks said that the White House was hurt more by its refusal to release the Secret Service visitor records than it was by ultimately releasing them, because they show that Abramoff "was there twice."
From PBS' live coverage of the Hayden nomination hearing:
LEHRER: Has the idea of just briefing the leadership, meaning two, and the leadership of the committee, meaning four -- and that means eight in the two bodies of the Congress -- has that also disappeared as well, as a result of all of this?
BROOKS: Well, the long-range attention is still there --
BROOKS: -- because the executive branch will always want to brief the fewest possible because they're afraid of leaks. And then they want to --
LEHRER: Do you think this is going to remove that now?
BROOKS: In the short term, yes. I mean, in the short term, but --
LEHRER: But if there's another NSA thing we don't know about, the whole committees of both houses are going to get briefed about it, right?
BROOKS: You would think so, but there's just a genetic disposition in the executive branch not to spread information -- and especially in this White House. I was thinking back, now that they've briefed the whole committee and defused some of the atmosphere -- I was thinking back, of all the times over the last five, six years where they withheld information and then finally released it, has there ever been once where the release actually was worse than the withholding? And almost always the release defuses things. I mean, there's just this case last week -- this is sort of tangentially related -- where the visitor logs -- how many times did Jack Abramoff visit the White House? The White House was holding onto this information, holding on -- people were making wild charges he was there hundreds of times. He was there twice, in 2001 and 2004, but still they don't release it.