By William Douglas
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - For the second straight day, the White House refused Wednesday to say who among its staffers met with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff or whom the recently convicted felon was representing when he visited the executive mansion.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan, pressed to explain Abramoff's contacts with the Bush administration, said, "We're not going to engage in a fishing expedition" in the media.
"I know there's some that want to do that, but I don't see any reason to do so," McClellan said. "Well, I think that some people (are) insinuating things based on no evidence whatsoever."
Several government ethics groups found the White House stance perplexing, saying nothing prevents the administration from disclosing the identities of meeting participants.
"There's a feeding frenzy for transparency and disclosure on Capitol Hill, and that's not a good way to start," said Roberta Baskin, the executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog group. "You can't plead national security. The public has a right to know."
Abramoff was a high-flying Washington lobbyist and a huge contributor to Republican political campaigns until he pleaded guilty before a federal judge on Jan. 3 to one charge each of conspiracy to corrupt public officials, mail fraud and tax evasion. He gave only to fellow Republicans, but his clients contributed large donations to Republicans and Democrats.
He's now cooperating with prosecutors investigating corruption on Capitol Hill and in the Bush administration, and Republicans worry that public outrage over the spreading scandal could cost them control of Congress in November's elections.