updated 10/6/2006 7:28:39 PM ET 2006-10-06T23:28:39

A key aide to presidential political strategist Karl Rove resigned Friday after a congressional report listed hundreds of contacts between disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the White House.

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Susan Ralston, special assistant to President Bush, submitted a resignation letter to him less than five weeks before congressional elections in which corruption and scandal are emerging as major issues.

“She did not want to be a distraction to the White House at such an important time and so we have accepted her resignation,” White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.

“We support her decision and consider the matter closed,” Perino said.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty to fraud and now is now cooperating with prosecutors in an influence peddling investigation that has enveloped Capitol Hill even as lawmakers struggle with the fallout from the page sex scandal.

The taint is apparently having an impact in midterm elections a month away. The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that about half of likely voters consider corruption and scandal in Congress very or extremely important, and about two in three of those said they would vote for Democrats in House races.

Critics have pointed to Ralston as evidence that Rove — and thus Bush — are possibly closer to Abramoff than the White House has acknowledged. Ralston was Abramoff’s administrative assistant at his lobbying firm and, after Bush took office, assumed the same post with Rove.

Ralston, in her 30s, had worked at the White House for nearly six years.

Stacie Paxton, press secretary of the Democratic National Committee, said the White House still has refused to come clean about its ties to Abramoff “and the Republican culture of corruption.”

10 documented contacts with Rove
The House Government Reform Committee last week issued a report saying that based on documents supplied by Abramoff’s former lobbying firm, he had 485 lobbying contacts with White House officials over three years, including 10 with Rove. At the time, the White House said it was unclear whether all the listed contacts were legitimate because they were based on sometimes-sketchy information provided by Abramoff himself.

E-mails reviewed by the committee indicate Abramoff and Ralston discussed business plans more than once. In February 2002, for example, Ralston, Abramoff, and Abramoff business partner Ben Waldman had an e-mail exchange about a business opportunity involving leasing an aircraft.

In November 2002, Ralston e-mailed about the possibility of forming a defense or homeland security-oriented company, acknowledging, “I . . . lack the experience to run the day-to-day operations of a defense company.”

She continued, “it would take a significant amount of money for me to be lured away (from the White House) so unless you’re really serious and can make it worth my while, let’s wait until 2005.”

Abramoff responded, “I am not in a position to offer you serious money for this right now.”

The report also said Abramoff and his team offered White House officials tickets to 19 sporting events and concerts, and Ralston was the most frequent recipient.

Perino said the resignation of Ralston, who helped organize and coordinate the day’s events and message of the White House, follows a White House review of the congressional report.

“Our review of the House Government Reform Committee’s report is complete,” Perino said. “We expect nothing more after our thorough review. She recognized that a protracted discussion of these matters would be a distraction to the White House and she’s chosen to step down.”

Sporting, concert tickets received
The report said Ralston received tickets to nine events from 2001 to 2004: four Capitals hockey games, one Baltimore Orioles baseball game, two Wizards basketball games, and Bruce Springsteen and Andrea Bocelli concerts.

The report did not make it clear whether Ralston or other White House officials paid for any of the tickets. In one case, Ralston wrote to Abramoff saying Rove “has to pay” for the tickets he received to an NCAA basketball playoff game.

In another instance, Ralston wrote an e-mail saying she was “willing to pay” for Capitals tickets, but Abramoff replied: “No problem, and you don’t have to pay.”

And after an Aug. 23, 2003, Orioles game that Ralston attended, she e-mailed Abramoff: “Thanks for the tix to the game last night. Our guests had a terrific time. (W)e had fun and appreciate your generosity.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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