|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
The lobbyist Jack Abramoff asked for $9 million in 2003 from the president of a West African nation to arrange a meeting with President Bush and directed his fees to a Maryland company now under federal scrutiny, according to newly disclosed documents.
The African leader, President Omar Bongo of Gabon, met with President Bush in the Oval Office on May 26, 2004, 10 months after Mr. Abramoff made the offer. There has been no evidence in the public record that Mr. Abramoff had any role in organizing the meeting or that he received any money or had a signed contract with Gabon.
White House and State Department officials described Mr. Bush's meeting with President Bongo, whose government is regularly accused by the United States of human rights abuses, as routine. The officials said they knew of no involvement by Mr. Abramoff in the arrangements. Officials at Gabon's embassy in Washington did not respond to written questions.
"This went through normal staffing channels," said Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, who said the meeting was "part of the president's outreach to the continent of Africa."
A document from Mr. Abramoff's files that was released last week by a Senate committee shows that in the summer of 2003 he pushed to sign President Bongo as a client, even offering to travel to Gabon immediately after an August golfing vacation to Scotland "with the congressmen and senators I take there each year."
The documents also show that Mr. Abramoff and his colleagues drew up a draft contract that called for $9 million in fees to be paid to GrassRoots Interactive, the small Maryland lobbying company that his former colleagues say he controlled.
Documents, including copies of canceled checks, show that millions of dollars flowed through the company's accounts in 2003, the year it was created, including at least $2.3 million to a California consulting firm that used the same address as the law office of Mr. Abramoff's brother, Robert. A separate check for $400,000 was made out to Kay Gold, another Abramoff family company.
When he first approached Gabon, Mr. Abramoff was not new to issues involving West Africa.
He had been a Washington lobbyist for President Mobutu Sese Seko, the repressive leader of neighboring Congo, called Zaire at the time. He also had connections to Gabon through a former business partner, David Safavian, who was a registered agent in Washington for President Bongo. Mr. Safavian, a former White House budget official, was arrested in September on charges of lying about his ties to Mr. Abramoff.
The three-page letter released by the Senate panel was written to Mr. Bongo on Greenberg Traurig stationery and dated July 28, 2003; Mr. Abramoff suggested that he had unusual influence to arrange a meeting with President Bush.
"Without advance resources, I have been cautiously working to obtain a visit for the president to Washington to see President Bush," Mr. Abramoff wrote. "As you know, we were, in advance of the war in Iraq, able to secure a tentative date for this meeting; however, the war canceled all such scheduled visits."
Mr. Abramoff said he was willing to travel to Gabon to meet with Mr. Bongo to discuss the contract if the government would arrange for a private plane.
"It must be on the basis by which I travel anywhere, being in a private aircraft, which bears a substantial cost unfortunately," he said. "I am confident that we will have a long, productive and warm relationship, but good relationships are built on firm understandings at the outset."
Other documents obtained by The New York Times show that Mr. Abramoff and his colleagues prepared two draft agreements, both dated Aug. 7, 2003, that outlined the lobbying plan for Gabon.
One called for GrassRoots to receive $9 million in lobbying fees; the other called for Greenberg Traurig to receive $1 million, all of it in 2003.
A spokeswoman for Greenberg Traurig said the firm had no comment. "We don't comment on whom we do or don't represent," said Jill Perry, a spokeswoman for the firm, which forced Mr. Abramoff to resign last year.