Just how close was the relationship between the White House and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff? The White House has continued to assert that the President had no recollection of ever meeting Abramoff. When TIME reported in January that it had viewed unpublished photographs of Abramoff with Bush, aides responded that the pictures meant nothing since the President is photographed with thousands of supporters and White House visitors every year.
Now, finally, the first such photo has come to light. It shows a bearded Abramoff in the background as Bush greets an Abramoff client, Raul Garza, who was then the chairman of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas; Bush senior advisor Karl Rove looks on. The photograph was provided to TIME by Mr. Garza. The meeting took place in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House on May 9, 2001. Told about the photograph in January, the White House said it had no record that Abramoff was present at the meeting. Shown the photograph today, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the White House had still found no record of Abramoff's presence but confirmed that it is Abramoff in the picture. McClellan told TIME: "The President has taken countless, tens of thousands of pictures at home and abroad over the last five years. As we've said previously a photo like this has no relevance to the Justice Department's investigation [of Abramoff]."