WASHINGTON -- A public interest group has sued the Secret Service for access to White House visitor logs the group says would show how often lobbyist Jack Abramoff met with President Bush and his staff.
Judicial Watch filed suit in US District Court in Washington under the federal Freedom of Information Act, contending that the Secret Service failed to meet a Feb. 21 deadline for releasing the records or indicating how much more time it would need.
Tom Mazur, Secret Service spokesman, said yesterday that the agency was unaware of the lawsuit. He had no other comment.
Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to federal charges stemming from his lobbying practices and pledged to cooperate with investigators.
The White House has refused to say how many times Abramoff, who raised $100,000 for Bush's reelection, has met with the president or his aides. Bush's spokesman has said Abramoff was admitted to the White House complex for ''a few staff-level meetings" and Hanukkah receptions in 2001 and 2002.
The president has said he does not know Abramoff personally.
The White House logs would answer a basic question about the extent of Abramoff's ties to the White House, said Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch president. The records ''may show 30 visits by Jack Abramoff to the White House, or they may show three visits."
''The point is we need to get all of the facts on the table about this admitted felon's contacts with White House officials," Fitton said. The lawsuit was filed last week.
One photograph of Bush and Abramoff has been made public, its authenticity acknowledged by the White House. In the 2001 photo, Bush is shaking hands with the leader of an Indian tribe that was an Abramoff client. The lobbyist is in the background.
In an e-mail Abramoff sent to a magazine editor, he said that he had brief conversations with Bush almost a dozen times and that the president knew him well enough to make joking references to Abramoff's family.
Lobbying records obtained by the Associated Press show his lobbying team met nearly 200 times with administration officials during the first 10 months of Bush's presidency on behalf of one of his clients, the Northern Mariana Islands. The contacts between Abramoff's team and the administration included meetings with Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and policy advisers to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Three former Abramoff associates also have said that the lobbyist frequently told them he had strong ties to the White House through presidential confidant Karl Rove. Rove has described Abramoff as a ''casual acquaintance" since Bush took office in 2001, White House spokeswoman Erin Healy has said.