Abramoff said he had agreement with White House aide just a month after Bush took office
Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Monday November 17, 2008

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Email noting relationship with White House came just a month after Bush took office

Convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff told his colleagues at his former law firm that he had an “agreement” regarding communications with a former assistant to then-Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, perhaps the most substantial documented tie between Abramoff and the White House to date.

In the email, dated Feb. 27, 2001, Abramoff reprimands a colleague who asked him to use Susan Ralston – Special Assistant to the President George W. Bush and then-Bush senior adviser Karl Rove – to arrange a meeting with the President for one of his clients.

In response, Abramoff writes that Ralston and he have an “agreement with her as to what we are going to ask her and when.”

Prior to joining the White House staff, Ralston was Abramoff’s assistant at the lobbying giant Greenberg Traurig. Prior to Greenberg, she had also worked with Abramoff at the lobbying shop Preston Gates & Ellis.

“This is not the proper way to go about this,” Abramoff writes when a colleague suggests that he approach Ralston himself about setting up a meeting for a client and the President, through Rove. “Susan is not going to be able to do things like this, and we have an agreement with her as to what we are going to ask her and when.”

The email was obtained by RAW STORY from an individual close to the federal investigation that has netted Abramoff, several of his staff, members of Congress and Bush Administration officials in a wide-ranging bribery probe. Coming just a month after the Bush Administration took office, it suggests that Abramoff's relationship with the White House began earlier and was more substantial than has previously been disclosed.

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Certain parts of the email have been redacted to protect individuals not under investigation.

The White House has previously denied any significant relationship between Bush administration officials and Abramoff.

Asked about the nature of the agreement last Tuesday, Abramoff’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, declined to comment.

“I can’t comment on any of this,” Lowell said. Ralston did not return calls seeking comment.

Ralston told Abramoff, associates to use other email accounts

Ralston's name previously surfaced in an investigation into deleted White House emails. The emails accounts were hosted on Republican National Committee servers, which some believe were set up as a way to for the White House to avoid Congressional oversight.

In a June 2007 report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 88 White House officials were identified as having had RNC e-mail accounts. Included among them were Ralston and Rove.

Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House is legally obliged to maintain backup records of emails. Because the emails are sent using taxpayer resources, many of them are open to Freedom of Information Act Review. The White House, however, has argued that in an effort to comply with laws that disallow use of government resources for political activities the Republican National Committee set up separate email accounts for numerous Bush Administration officials.

When the Democratic-controlled Congress sought emails relating to the US Attorney firings, the White House said millions of the emails had been accidentally deleted.

According to the Washington watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, “the Executive Office of the President had lost over five million emails generated between March 2003 and October 2005.”

Ralston had two accounts hosted on RNC servers: [email protected] and [email protected] According to an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight, Ralston told Abramoff and two of his colleagues at Greenberg Traurig, to use her RNC accounts as well as her private AOL account.

According to a March 2007 letter sent to the White House by Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight, Ralston asked two Abramoff associates at Greenberg Traurig to use her RNC account because there are no “security issues like my WH email.”

“Susan Ralston, who was Karl Rove's executive assistant, invited two lobbyists working for Jack Abramoff to use her RNC e-mail account to avoid "security issues" with the White House e-mail system, writing: "I now have an RNC blackberry which you can use to e-mail me at any time. No security issues like my WH email,” the report said.

In another email exchange, this one directly with Abramoff, Ralston alerted him to do the same in the event that she could not be reached on her AOL account.

“Ms. Ralston similarly wrote Mr. Abramoff: "I know [sic] have an RNC laptop at the office for political use,” the report added. “I can access my AOL email when necessary so if you need to send me something that I need to read, you can send to my AOL email and then call or page me to check it.”

Of the emails that were preserved by the RNC, only 130 emails sent to Rove were provided to the Committee and none of them prior to 2005, despite Rove sending email through RNC servers 95 percent of the time.

Federal authorities were already investigating Abramoff in 2005, the point at which all emails were deleted by the RNC. The “agreement” email acquired by RAW STORY is dated at 2001, suggesting that the bulk of correspondences between Abramoff and Ralston would have taken place between 2001-2005.

In 2006, Abramoff plead guilty to several counts of bribing political officials and defrauding his American Indian tribal clients. That same year, Ralston – who resigned from her White House post in 2005 – started a lobbying firm called SBR Enterprises, LLC. SBR Enterprises is registered in Virginia.