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What Cheney's blast revealed: A new White House lobbying scandal

Posted in the database on Thursday, February 16th, 2006 @ 11:08:40 MST (1317 views)
from Attytood  

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''I'm going to have lunch with Secretary of State Rice, talk a little business; Mrs. Bush, talk a little business; we've got a friend from South Texas here, named Katharine Armstrong; take a little nap. I'm reading an Elmore Leonard book right now, knock off a little Elmore Leonard this afternoon; go fishing with my man, Barney; a light dinner and head to the ballgame. I get to bed about 9:30 p.m., wake up about 5 a.m. So it's a perfect day.''

-- President George W. Bush, as quoted in the Aug. 22, 2005, New York Times.

For months now, reporters and bloggers have been digging for a picture that would show President Bush with disgraced lobbyist and felon Jack Abramoff. Maybe they've been looking for the wrong picture. Because there's a lobbyist out there who has access to both Bush and Dick Cheney that Abramoff (or at least his pals in Queens) might kill for.

Her name is Katharine Armstrong -- whose family owns the Texas ranch where Cheney shot his 78-year-old friend, Harry Whittington, on Saturday. What has received virtually no attention in all the shooting hoopla is that the wealthy ranch heiress is also a lobbyist -- a lobbyist who goes quail hunting with the vice president and spends leisurely summer days with the leader of the free world at his ranch in Crawford.

Armstrong became a lobbyist just three short years ago. She had no prior experience in lobbying, nor does she have a law degree. Her recent governmental experience consists of her recent stint as chair of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. In recent years, the divorcee has been raising her three kids and been involved in philanthropic causes around Dallas.

So how's Armstrong doing in her new career?

Quite well, thank you.

In fact, companies are paying big bucks for the Texas-based Armstrong to lobby the federal government in Washington -- including, yes, the White House. NBC News' Aram Rostom is reporting tonight that Houston law firm Baker Botts -- the favorite American law firm of the Saudi royal family, among many international clients -- paid Armstrong $160,000 in 2004 to lobby the Bush White House:

The records indicate she was paid the money after she "communicated with the White House on behalf of Baker Botts clients."

In a phone interview, she told NBC News that in return for the money in one case, she set up a meeting at the White House for a Baker Botts client, although she said she felt she could not release the client’s name.

"A meeting for doing something with one of their clients," she said, describing the event. "I’m not at liberty to say which." She says she cannot remember which White House official the meeting was with. She also said that during the inauguration proceedings, she got Karl Rove to speak at a Baker Botts function. "I got them Karl Rove," she said.

She insists that she never lobbied Bush or Cheney directly.

But records reviewed last night by Attytood also show that the family-owned King Ranch in Texas has paid Armstrong $10,000 to lobby the White House, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and lawmakers.

And Baker Botts and the King Ranch are not the new lobbyist's only clients, nor the only ones doing well with the Bush administration.

In the first half of 2004, a pharmaceutical company called Prionics, which specializes in testing for mad cow disease and related animal diseases, hired Armstrong and another Bush friend working out of Austin, Karen Johnson, to lobby the Bush administration. In her 2004 year-end report, Armstrong said she was paid $120,000 for that period.

According to their disclosure form, they "contacted Sec. Ann Veneman at the Dept. of Agriculture regarding using Prionics testing methods to determine BSE," referring to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. On April 8, 2004, the company made this announcement:

Prionics AG, the world leader in testing procedures for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or "mad cow" disease, and Roche Diagnostics, the number one in-vitro diagnostics company in the world, announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved the two Prionics BSE tests, Prionics(R)-Check WESTERN, and Prionics(R)-Check LIA, for use in the United States' enhanced BSE surveillance program. Both tests will be distributed by Roche Diagnostics in the United States

Mission accomplished.

Meanwhile, a Texas company called Trajen, specializing in aviation logistics and fueling, hired Armstrong in 2004 to represent them in a dispute with the Department of the Navy, and paid her $80,000 over two years, according to the records.

What kind of access does Armstrong enjoy. Well, you already know about her "face time" -- oops, poor choice of words -- hunting with the vice president at her family's other ranch in South Texas, and we told you about her visit to Crawford last August.

In November, Armstrong attended the official White House state dinner for Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, and she was also on the list of overnight guests who visited the Bush family at either the White House or Camp David. That's a lot more than Hannukah rope-line access.

One footnote. The reason for the Bush quote at the top? It was because of the woman he would not see while he was hanging around with friend -- and lobbyist -- Katharine Armstrong: Iraq war mother and protestor Cindy Sheehan.

__________________________

Cheney's hunting host lobbied White House

Ranch owner who divulged accident earned $160,000 for work in 2004

By Aram Roston
MSNBC.com

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/11349649/print/1/displaymode/1098/

Katharine Armstrong, whose family owns the ranch where Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting partner, is a registered lobbyist who has been paid to lobby the White House, according to records.

Armstrong told NBC News in a telephone interview that she has never directly lobbied Cheney as far as she remembers.

"Never!" she said. And she says she does not remember directly lobbying the president himself either.

Armstrong was playing host to Cheney and to attorney Harry Whittington at her 50,000-acre spread 60 miles south of Corpus Christi when Cheney accidentally shot Whittington on Saturday. The White House did not immediately release news of the incident, but Armstrong said she told Cheney on Sunday morning that she was going to inform the local paper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. She said he agreed, and the newspaper reported it on its Web site Sunday afternoon.

A statement issued Monday by Kenedy County (Texas) Sheriff Gilbert San Miguel, who interviewed Cheney after the hunting accident, said that alcohol was not a factor in the shooting. "The investigation reveals that there was no alcohol, or misconduct involved in the incident," the sheriff said.

‘No comment’ on blood test

At a news conference Wednesday outside Whittington’s hospital in Corpus Christi, reporters asked hospital officials whether Whittington’s blood-alcohol level had been tested. The officials responded with a "no comment."

In a recorded, on-the-record phone call with NBC News, Armstrong said that beer may have been available at lunch that day. "If someone wants to help themselves to a beer," she said, "they may, but I did not see anyone do that," Armstrong says. She says she was not sure if there were beers in the coolers but wasn't ready to rule it out: "There may be a beer or two in there, but remember not everyone in the party was shooting," she told NBC News.

Armstrong added that she did not believe that Cheney or anyone else shooting in the hunting party had alcohol on Saturday before the hunting accident.

NBC News called the vice president’s office for comment four times Tuesday and Wednesday and asked whether the vice president or anyone in the hunting party had consumed any alcohol on Saturday prior to the accident. In an e-mail statement Wednesday to NBC News, the vice president’s press secretary referred NBC News to the Kenedy County Sheriff’s Department report on the incident. Later in the day on Fox News, Brit Hume stated that Cheney told him during a taped interview that he had had "a beer at lunch" before the hunting incident.

Armstrong was paid $160,000 in 2004 by the powerful legal firm Baker Botts to lobby the White House, according to records she filed with the U.S. Senate as required by lobbying disclosure rules. The records indicate she was paid the money after she "communicated with the White House on behalf of Baker Botts clients."

Won't reveal client's name

In a phone interview, she told NBC News that in return for the money in one case, she set up a meeting at the White House for a Baker Botts client, although she said she felt she could not release the client’s name.

"A meeting for doing something with one of their clients," she said, describing the event. "I’m not at liberty to say which." She says she cannot remember which White House official the meeting was with. She also said that during the inauguration proceedings, she got Karl Rove to speak at a Baker Botts function. "I got them Karl Rove," she said.

Records indicate that early in 2005 she ended her dealings with Baker Botts.

In a subsequent interview, Armstrong told NBC News that Baker Botts asked her not to discuss what she did for the firm. Reached late Tuesday afternoon, Baker Botts had no comment on the story.

Records also indicate that early the same year she ended her lobbying relationship with another firm, Prionics, which had paid her to "work with the administration," on issues related to mad cow disease.

Bush shot at ranch while governor

Armstrong also told NBC News that while George W. Bush did shoot at her ranch while he was Texas governor, she has never hosted him while he was president.

Armstrong said the shooting accident happened toward the end of the hunt on Saturday, when it was still sunny but as darkness was encroaching and they were preparing to go inside. She said Whittington made a mistake by not announcing that he had walked up to rejoin the hunting line, and Cheney didn’t see him as he tried to down a bird.

Armstrong said she saw Cheney’s security detail running toward the scene. "The first thing that crossed my mind was he had a heart problem," she told The Associated Press.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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