WASHINGTON -- In President Bush's first year in the White House, the administration had roughly 200 contacts with Republican fund-raiser Jack Abramoff and his lobbying team as they sought to influence Bush's hires and pressed him to keep the Northern Mariana Islands free from the minimum wage law, documents show.
The reception Abramoff's team received from the administration contrasts with chilly relations during the Clinton years. Abramoff, then at the Preston Gates law firm, scored few meetings with Clinton aides as the lobbyist and the islands vehemently opposed White House attempts to extend US labor laws to the territory's clothing factories.
''Our standing with the new administration promises to be solid as several friends of the CNMI [islands] will soon be taking high-ranking positions in the Administration, including within the Interior Department," Abramoff wrote in a January 2001 letter in which he persuaded the island government to follow him as a client to his new lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig.
The meetings between Abramoff's lobbying team and the new Bush administration included Attorney General John Ashcroft and policy advisers in Vice President Dick Cheney's office, according to his lobbying firm billing records.
Abramoff, who has raised more than $100,000 for Bush, is now under criminal investigation for some of his lobbying work.
His firm boasted that its lobbying team helped revised a section of the Republican Party's 2000 platform to make it favorable to its island client.
In addition, two of Abramoff's lobbying colleagues on the Marianas won political appointments to federal agencies: Patrick Pizzella, named an assistant secretary of labor by Bush, and David Safavian, chosen by Bush to oversee federal procurement policy in the Office of Management and Budget.
''We have worked with WH Office of Presidential Personnel to ensure that CNMI-relevant positions at various agencies are not awarded to enemies of CNMI," Abramoff's team wrote the Marianas in an October 2001 report on its work for the year.
The records from Abramoff's firm, obtained by The Associated Press from the Marianas under an open records request, chronicle Abramoff's cultivation of relations with Bush's political team as far back as 1997.
In that year, Abramoff charged the Marianas for getting Bush, then Texas governor, to write a letter expressing support for the Pacific territory's school choice proposal, his billing records show.
''I hope you will keep my office informed on the progress of this initiative," Bush wrote in a July 18, 1997, letter praising the islands' school plan and copying in an Abramoff deputy.
White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said Thursday Bush didn't consider Abramoff a friend. ''They may have met on occasion, but the president does not know him," she said.
As for the number of Abramoff lobbying team contacts with Bush officials documented in the billing records, Healy said, ''We do not know how he defines 'contacts.' "
Andrew Blum, a spokesman for Abramoff, declined to comment.
The Greenberg Traurig firm, where Abramoff worked between late 2000 and early 2004, is investigating Abramoff's work and cooperating with government investigations.
Abramoff is under federal investigation amid allegations he overcharged tribal clients by millions of dollars, and his ties to powerful lawmakers such as House majority leader Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, are under increasing scrutiny.