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November 2006

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Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman.

RNC Chairman Mehlman Caught With Hand In Cookie Jar
A truly forgettable Shabbat dinner at the Abramoff's.

-- Karl Frisch

For months the media has failed to challenge Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman's evolving explanation for his close relationship with convicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Jamison Foser, Managing Director of Media Matters for America today called on members of the media to challenge Mehlman on his inconsistencies.

"Ken Mehlman has had more explanations for his close ties to Jack Abramoff than a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar," said Jamison Foser, Managing Director of Media Matters for America. ?It's time for the media to demand a true, consistent account from Mehlman. We shouldn't have to wait for another shoe to drop for the media to examine Mehlman's evolving explanations of his relationship to Abramoff."

As the scandal surrounding Abramoff has inched closer to the White House, Mehlman has gone from claiming Abramoff was "someone we don't know a lot about" in January, to knowing him "in various capacities" in April and conceding that he had known Abramoff since the mid-1990s in October.

Mehlman's Evolving Statements Regarding Jack Abramoff

January: In a January interview with freelance journalist A.L. Bardach, Mehlman described Abramoff as "someone who we don't know a lot about. We know what we read in the paper."

April: In the April issue of Vanity Fair, contributing editor David Margolick reported that documents obtained by Vanity Fair indicated that Mehlman had done political favors for Abramoff and even attended Sabbath dinner at the lobbyist's house. Margolick quoted Abramoff saying, ?Any important Republican who comes out and says they didn't know me is almost certainly lying." The article also noted that a spokesperson for Mehlman responded that he ?does not recall the e-mail exchange, ?because he was often contacted by political supporters with suggestions and ideas," or the Sabbath dinner." RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt subsequently told Reuters that "Jack Abramoff is someone that the chairman has known in various capacities during his time in Washington."

September: A September 29 report by the House Committee on Government Reform found that "Abramoff and his colleagues billed their clients for more than 400 contacts with White House officials between 2001 and 2004," as The Washington Post reported. Included in the billing records were 17 contacts with the White House Office of Political Affairs, which Mehlman directed until 2004. 

October: An October 15 Los Angeles Times article reported that a string of emails from 2001 "suggest" that Mehlman had worked to remove State Department official Allen Stayman at Abramoff's request. The Times reported that the "e-mails show that Abramoff, whose client list included the Northern Mariana Islands, had long opposed Stayman's work advocating labor changes in that U.S. commonwealth, and considered what his lobbying team called the 'Stayman project' a high priority." In an email sent after a meeting with Mehlman, an Abramoff associate reportedly wrote, "Mehlman said he would get him fired." Shortly thereafter, Stayman lost his position in the State Department. According to the article, Mehlman conceded that he had known Abramoff since the mid-1990s, but "said he did not recall the details of his contacts with the Abramoff team."

Blitzer Let Mehlman Slide on the October 15th CNN Late Edition

In Mehlman's first televised interview since the September 29 House report, host Wolf Blitzer noted the allegations in the Times article that Stayman lost his job ?after intervention by one of the highest officials at the White House: Ken Mehlman, on behalf of one of the most influential lobbyists in town, Jack Abramoff." Blitzer then asked: "Is that true?"

Mehlman responded, "It is not true," adding that he "did not have the authority as the political director to fire anybody" and that he typically "let the policy-makers or the personnel deciders know exactly what people said. And they made the decisions." He further stated, "I also don't recall the specifics of this matter involving Mr. Stayman. But as a matter of course, and certainly in the first term, I had, frequently, people come to see me with political issues they wanted talked about."

Blitzer went on to note that the Times quoted ?an email from one of Abramoff's associates, as saying, "Mehlman said he would get him fired."

In response, Mehlman again stated that he ?didn't have that authority." Blitzer subsequently changed the subject.