tampabay.com

White House aide steps down

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published October 7, 2006


WASHINGTON - The top aide to White House strategist Karl Rove quit Friday, a week after congressional investigators portrayed her as a key link between senior officials and the now-disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff - brokering deals for his clients as she took premium tickets to sporting events and concerts.

Susan Ralston has worked as Rove's executive assistant, functioning as a gatekeeper of sorts for President Bush's most trusted political adviser. She was an aide to Abramoff before she joined the White House and became what the lobbyist called his "implant" there.

As Rove's top staffer and a special assistant to the president, Ralston becomes the closest aide to Bush to leave in a scandal that has so far enveloped lobbyists, lawmakers, Capitol Hill aides and an administration procurement official while, until now, sparing the inner sanctum of the White House.

Ralston "did not want to be a distraction to the White House at this important time," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, adding that Ralston "played a very valuable role in advancing the president's agenda." Perino said Ralston would leave within the next couple of weeks.

The report issued last week by the House Governmental Reform Committee quoted e-mails from Ralston in which, among other things, she helped lobby Rove about political endorsements in tiny U.S. protectorates represented by Abramoff, and arranged for Rove to sit as Abramoff's guest in a private box for first-round games in the NCAA basketball tournament.

The bipartisan investigation documented more than 400 lobbying contacts between Abramoff's team and the White House between January 2001 and March 2004, including dozens with Rove's office and nine with the top strategist himself. The report was based on thousands of pages of billing records and e-mails obtained from Abramoff's firm.

The committee did not subpoena information from the White House, making it difficult to conclude in many cases whether Abramoff's requests were granted and whether the lobbyist, as officials have argued, was exaggerating his influence.

ABRAMOFF'S TICKETS

A congressional report last week found that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave tickets to Susan Ralston, special assistant to President Bush, including:

Dec. 1, 2001: Four floor tickets to a Wizards basketball game.

Dec. 22, 2001: An unknown number of tickets to a Capitals hockey game.

June 15, 2002: Two tickets to an Andrea Bocelli concert with parking.

Aug. 10, 2002: Four tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Aug. 23, 2002: Four tickets to an Orioles game.

Nov. 27, 2002: Four tickets to a Capitals game, with parking.

Feb. 26, 2003: Four tickets to a Capitals game.

Jan. 10, 2004: Four floor tickets to a Wizards game.

Feb. 3, 2004: Two ice-level seats to a Capitals game.