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Published: Thursday, 1/26/2006

They don't know Jack

WHAT the White House desperately doesn't want to see in the media is a photograph of President Bush with Jack Abramoff. The President's official mouthpiece would have us believe that Mr. Bush can't recall ever having met the convicted lobbyist, even though he raised more than $100,000 for the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue during the 2004 campaign.

Time magazine, however, reports that the estranged couple were photographed together on at least five occasions, although not one snapshot could be obtained for publication. You could almost hear the sighs of relief emanating from the Oval Office.

Such is the depth of administration angst over fallout from the bribery scandal, which has captured the attention of official Washington and caused Mr. Bush, among politicians far and wide, to divest themselves of Abramoff's campaign contributions and otherwise to pretend that they've hardly laid eyes on the guy.

If all the hemming and hawing sounds familiar, it is not surprising. The White House did a similarly clumsy tap dance involving another politically radioactive public figure, Enron chairman Kenneth Lay, after his company collapsed in 2001 and again after Mr. Lay was indicted in 2004.

Back then, Mr. Bush feigned only casual acquaintance with Mr. Lay. But Texas political veterans knew full well that the energy tycoon's company had been the President's most generous political contributor - more than $600,000 - over the years. Mr. Lay had even been anointed with a Bush nickname - "Kenny Boy."

So now history repeats and Washington waits breathlessly for revelations of official wrongdoing spawned by Abramoff's guilty plea. But don't be surprised by the number of well connected people in the capital, particularly in Congress, who claim they don't know Jack.

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