Washington Wanted: Face time with President Bush or top adviser Karl Rove. Suggested donation: $100,000. The middleman: lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Blunt e-mails that connect money and access in Washington show that prominent Republican activist Grover Norquist facilitated some administration contacts for Abramoff's clients while the lobbyist simultaneously solicited those clients for large donations to Norquist's tax-exempt group.
Those who were solicited or landed administration introductions included foreign figures and American Indian tribes, according to e-mails gathered by Senate investigators and federal prosecutors or obtained independently by The Associated Press.
"Can the tribes contribute $100,000 for the effort to bring state legislatures and those tribal leaders who have passed Bush resolutions to Washington?" Norquist wrote Abramoff in one such e-mail in July 2002.
"When I have funding, I will ask Karl Rove for a date with the president. Karl has already said 'yes' in principle and knows you organized this last time and hope to this year," Norquist wrote in the e-mail.
A Senate committee that investigated Abramoff previously aired evidence showing Bush met briefly in 2001 at the White House with some of Abramoff's tribal clients after they donated money to Norquist's group.
The 2002 e-mail about a second White House meeting and donations, however, was not disclosed. The AP obtained the text from people with access to the document.
The tribes got to meet Bush at the White House in 2002 again and then donated to Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.
Though Norquist's own e-mail connects the $100,000 donation and the White House visit, ATR spokesman John Kartch said Norquist never offered to arrange meetings in exchange for money.
Instead, Norquist simply wanted Abramoff's tribes to help pay for a conference where lawmakers and tribal leaders passed resolutions supporting the Bush agenda, ultimately securing a brief encounter with Bush, Kartch said.
"No one from Americans for Tax Reform ever assisted Jack Abramoff in getting meetings or introductions with the White House or congressional leaders in exchange for contributions," Kartch said, suggesting some of the e-mails might be misleading.
"If you look at some of Abramoff's e-mails to third parties, they might be misread to suggest that he was misrepresenting or confusing support for a project with a specific meeting," Kartch said. "This could have been deliberate or just unclear."
Kartch said: "People were invited to ATR's conference and to the White House only if they worked on pro-tax-cut resolutions. Nobody was invited because they made a contribution to ATR."
Attorneys for Abramoff declined comment.
The White House said Rove was unaware that Norquist solicited any money in connection with ATR events in both 2001 and 2002 that brought Abramoff's tribal clients and others to the White House.
The e-mails show Abramoff delivered on his original promise to get tribal money for the event that included the Bush visit, sending one check from the Mississippi Choctaw tribe in October and one in November from the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan. Kartch said Abramoff didn't deliver on PAC contributions.
Norquist and Abramoff were longtime associates who went back decades to their days in the Young Republicans movement. Norquist founded ATR to advocate lower taxes and less government. He built it into a major force in the Republican Party as the GOP seized control of Congress and the White House.
Abramoff became one of Washington's rainmaker lobbyists before allegations that he defrauded Indian tribes led to his downfall and a prison sentence. He is cooperating with prosecutors.