CBS, NBC largely ignored new report showing hundreds of Abramoff/White House connections
Research ››› ››› SIMON MALOY
CBS and NBC have almost completely ignored Roll Call's revelation that a House committee is preparing to release a bipartisan report documenting closer ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff than the Bush White House previously acknowledged.
On September 28, Roll Call reported that the House Government Reform Committee was preparing to release a bipartisan report documenting "hundreds of contacts between top White House officials and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates, as well as tens of thousands of dollars worth of meals and tickets to sporting events and concerts that were offered to these officials during a three-year period starting in early 2001." As Roll Call noted: "Democratic committee staff wrote in a three-page summary that accompanied the report: 'The documents depict a much closer relationship between Mr. Abramoff and White House officials than the White House has previously acknowledged.' " Since news of the congressional report surfaced, ABC has aired two in-depth stories -- one on the September 28 broadcast of World News with Charles Gibson and the other on the September 29 broadcast of Good Morning America -- on this revelation. CBS and NBC, however, have almost completely ignored the committee's report.
Abramoff, who is at the center of an influence-peddling scandal on Capitol Hill, pleaded guilty in January to charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion.
The September 28 broadcasts of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams made no mention of the report. It was the lead story, however, on that day's edition of World News with Charles Gibson:
CHARLES GIBSON (host): We'll get to the stories we headlined, in a moment, but we have late news, tonight, about a congressional report coming out tomorrow that will show White House contacts with now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates were far more extensive than the White House has ever acknowledged. And the report will state that prime among Abramoff's lobbying targets were the man who is now chairman of the National Republican Committee [Ken Mehlman] and Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser.
It will be something of a bombshell in Washington tomorrow. And our chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos is joining us. George, I know this -- this report comes from the House Government Affairs Committee, which, of course, is led by Republicans. What do we know about what's in it?
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's right. Its chairman is Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia, Charlie. It's the House Government Reform Committee. And it's an investigation based on a detailed examination of the billing records and the emails they received from Jack Abramoff and his associates at his firm. What it's going to show, as you suggested, is far more extensive contacts than we've been led to believe in the past with the White House and the Republican National Committee. It also has some circumstantial evidence that Abramoff was able to get some -- some action on behalf of his clients from the administration. It also will detail offers from the -- Abramoff and his associates of dinners and concert tickets and other kinds of meals and -- and drinks to White House officials -- again, far more extension than we've heard about in the past.
GIBSON: But George, after Jack Abramoff pled guilty to illegal lobbying, officials at the White House said their -- they barely knew him -- that -- that he had come to a couple of receptions, and that all they knew is what they read in the papers. So, how -- have we been able to quantify how many contacts he had with White House officials?
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're starting to. According to the report, from what I've been told, is that there were about 450 contacts with White House officials, including nine contacts with the president's chief political adviser, Karl Rove. It -- it also shows that Abramoff tried to get 20 people hired in the administration. In this case, it shows he was only successful, though, once.
GIBSON: And does it allege any illegal contacts or any illegal lobbying?
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's going to be the fight. There will be some questions about whether or not these concert tickets, meals, drinks offered to White House officials violated the gift ban. That's going to be something at issue. There does seem to be, as I said, circumstantial evidence that Abramoff did get what he wanted on behalf of his clients. I should say, though, that the White House says what this shows is that Abramoff was singularly unsuccessful as a lobbyist, even though he was trying very hard. They also point out that this investigation is largely based on his billing records, his -- his emails. And that he's been shown to have lied in the past.
GIBSON: All right. George Stephanopoulos reporting from Washington. This obviously will be a major subject of debate tomorrow in Washington when the report is released.
By contrast, Nightly News led off its September 28 broadcast with a report on Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward's forthcoming book on the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war, titled State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III (Simon & Schuster, October 2006). NBC also reported on a school shooting in Colorado, the Senate vote on the controversial bill allowing for "coercive interrogation" of terrorism suspects, allegations that the Department of the Interior is failing to collect royalties from U.S. oil companies, the recently released autobiography by Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), and new research on the ways in which babies learn to speak.
The CBS Evening News led off its September 28 broadcast with the Colorado school shooting. CBS also reported on the detainee interrogation bill, as well as the mismanaged and wasteful construction of Iraq's largest police academy, the possibility of electronic voting machine fraud in the midterm elections, panda cubs in China being brought together "for a play date of sorts," the Mars rovers, and an upcoming auction of memorabilia from the Star Trek television series.
The September 29 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America also led with the Abramoff story:
DIANE SAWYER (co-anchor): That's ahead. But let's go to [co-anchor] Chris Cuomo with the news. Chris, good morning.
CUOMO: Good morning, and good morning everyone. We begin with that bombshell report from Congress. Turns out disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff had hundreds of previously unreported contacts with top White House officials. ABC's [White House correspondent] Jessica Yellin is at the White House. Jessica?
YELLIN: Good morning, Chris. The White House is fighting back this morning after that congressional report suggests felon Jack Abramoff had far more contacts with officials here than the White House had led us to believe.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN [video clip]: Raise your right hand. State after me.
YELLIN: When lobbyist Jack Abramoff pled guilty to bribery nine months ago, the White House suggested they barely knew the guy.
SCOTT McCLELLAN (former White House press secretary) [video clip]: There were only a couple of holiday receptions that he attended, then a few -- few staff-level meetings on top of that.
BUSH [video clip]: You know, I frankly don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don't know him.
YELLIN: But now, a bipartisan congressional investigation finds that, between 2001 and 2004, Abramoff actually had 485 separate contacts with White House officials. Investigators say Abramoff's records show he had 10 separate contacts with top adviser Karl Rove, and another 17 with the Office of Political Affairs, and that Abramoff claims to have spent $25,000 entertaining White House officials. According to the report, Abramoff took Karl Rove to an NCAA basketball game, then later bragged that Rove told him, "Anytime we need something, just let him know" through his [then-executive] assistant, Susan [Ralston]. It's unknown whether Rove paid for his ticket.
The White House dismisses this report as wildly misleading. The findings are based on Abramoff's own emails and billing records which, says the White House, were "the billing records of a liar" and "widely regarded as fraudulent."
And the White House now tells us that Karl Rove did pay for his tickets at that basketball game. This morning, an ABC News crew caught up with Karl Rove, who flatly denies he ever accepted any gifts from Jack Abramoff.
ROVE: I did not.
YELLIN: And aides here also point out that the 485 documented contacts in the report include Abramoff simply sending an email to a White House official or bumping into one at an event. Chris.
By contrast, the September 29 broadcast of NBC's Today mentioned the report twice, but only briefly:
ANN CURRY (co-anchor): A draft report from a House committee indicates that embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff had hundreds of contacts with White House officials over a three-year period. The report lists 485 lobbying contacts, including 10 with Karl Rove. The White House says the records the report is based upon are not credible.
CURRY: The White House is dismissing a new congressional report that says lobbyist Jack Abramoff had hundreds of contacts with White House officials, including 10 with presidential aide Karl Rove. The White House says Abramoff's records, which are the basis of the report, are not credible. Abramoff has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion.
The September 29 broadcast of CBS' The Early Show briefly mentioned the report once:
HANNAH STORM (co-anchor): A congressional report details the connection between convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the White House. Abramoff's records indicate nearly 500 contacts over a three-year period. Ten involved top Bush aide Karl Rove. The report said, quote, "Abramoff was selling information and entrée that shouldn't need to be bought while making his clients pay inflated fees for access and influence that shouldn't be for sale."
Both CBS and NBC reported the past claims from White House officials that they barely knew Abramoff, and that his contact with the White House was infrequent. CBS News national political correspondent Gloria Borger reported on the January 30 broadcast of the CBS Evening News:
BORGER: On the eve of the president's State of the Union speech, official Washington is distracted, not by policy debates or the war, but by scandal.
Start with this man -- Jack Abramoff -- once a well-connected Republican lobbyist, now singing to federal prosecutors in a congressional bribery scandal. His friend, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay [R-TX], forced to give up his leadership post after being indicted in Texas for money laundering. Ohio Republican Bob Ney -- forced to give up his committee chairmanship after prosecutors tied him to Abramoff.
And while Democrats haven't received any money from Abramoff's own checkbook, they did receive one and a half million he directed to them through his clients. So, when 100 members rushed to return Abramoff-tainted money to charity, it was a bipartisan stampede.
Even the president joined in, sending 6,000 in Abramoff donations to charity. What the president won't reveal -- the pictures taken of him with the lobbyist at White House functions. And although Abramoff was a top Bush moneyman, the president says he doesn't know him.
BUSH: I can't say I didn't never meet him, but it's, you know -- I meet a lot of people.
Nightly News anchor Brian Williams reported on May 10:
WILLIAMS: The Secret Service today turned over its computer records of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's White House visits. They seem to support the White House's claim that Abramoff did not have a close relationship with President Bush. They show him entering the White House twice. The White House already confirmed three other visits. Both the White House and the Secret Service acknowledge this computerized search would not present a complete picture of Abramoff's comings and goings.