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Monday, October 16, 2006

If you swim in a sewer, at some point you'll stink

Mehlman denies role in ousting of official
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington
Financial Times

Updated: 12:41 a.m. CT Oct 16, 2006
Ken Mehlman, the powerful chairman of the Republican National Committee, was on Sunday put on the defensive about his alleged role in the ousting of a State Department official in 2001 who was a political foe of Jack Abramoff, the former "superlobbyist" convicted on corruption charges this year.

Mr Mehlman said he did not recall the specifics of the removal of Allen Stayman, who supported changes to labour laws on the Northern Mariana Islands, an important client of Mr Abramoff, but said it was "not true" he had the authority to fire anyone in his former role as political director at the White House.

With mid-term elections looming on November 7 and the Republican party struggling to hold on to its majority in Congress, questions about Mr Abramoff's ties to the party as well as its response to the Mark Foley congressional sex scandal could not have come at a worse time.

The ties between Mr Mehlman and Mr Abramoff, which were highlighted in a report by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, follow the release of hundreds of e-mails by a congressional committee investigating the former lobbyists' ties to the Bush administration.

The e-mails shed new light on Mr Abramoff's wheeling and dealing in Washington, including how he allegedly called in favours from a vast network of Republican allies for various political appointments and endorsements – succeeding in some endeavours and failing in others.

In one e-mail, one of Mr Abramoff's associates declared: "Mehlman said he would get him [Mr Stayman] fired."

Mr Mehlman said in an interview on CNN on Sunday that he frequently had people come to see him with political and personnel issues. "I had a way of dealing with all these matters, which is to let the policy-makers or the personnel deciders know exactly what people said. And they made the decisions," he said.

A lobbyist associated with Mr Abramoff met White House officials on 12 occasions in 2003 and 2004 on behalf of an association that represented PartyGaming and other online gaming websites, according to billing records released by Congress.

White House officials' meetings with Shawn Vasell, a former associate of Mr Abramoff, were documented by the latter's former lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig. The documents were released following a broader investigation into contacts between Mr Abramoff's team and the Bush administration by the House committee on government reform.