By Tony Russell


At his weekly press conference this morning, celebrity lobbyist Jack Abramoff brushed aside journalists' requests for photos purportedly showing him shaking President Bush's hand, and in other shots smiling and embracing the President.

"I hug and shake hands with thousands of people," Abramoff said. "Generally, there's a long line of people waiting to be photographed with me, and we run them through in ten-second intervals. We call them 'grip-and-grin' sessions. I don't see any point to digging them out of some huge file when they're essentially meaningless."

People who have seen the photos say that the background appears in some instances to be the Oval Office, and in other cases various White House meeting rooms. Abramoff explained that it is not uncommon for Mr. Bush to wander into the Oval Office or pop into a meeting for a few minutes. "They're just staff-level meetings," he said. "No big deal."

Asked about the inscription "For the best administration money can buy" on several of the photos, Abramoff told reporters that the phrase was his lobbying firm's mission statement. "Let the good times roll," which appears on several other photos, is his personal mantra, he said.

"It's not as if the inscriptions on Mr. Bush's photos are something out of the ordinary," he claimed. "Half the members of the Cabinet plus the majority of the Republican members of Congress have photos of themselves shaking my hand, with the same inscriptions."

Abramoff, say legal experts, is reluctant to have photos of himself with Mr. Bush released while he is awaiting sentencing. Being associated with an administration guilty of torture, kidnapping, illegal wiretapping, and unlawful invasion could very well result in a harsher sentence, says Mark Spott, a veteran political crimes attorney. "Birds of a feather get plucked together," he said.

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