Hours before the beginning of a three-day holiday weekend, the White House announced the resignation of Susan Ralston, a top aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove.
Just a week before, Ralston's name was mentioned 162 times in a 93-page congressional report on the influence wielded in the Bush White House by uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a convicted felon.
The bipartisan House Government Reform Committee studied documents from Greenberg Traurig LLP, Abramoff's former lobbying firm -- billing records and other documents -- indicating that Abramoff and his team had made 485 lobbying contacts with White House officials over three years, 69 of which were with Ralston, who seemed to serve as a messenger between the Abramoff and White House camps.
Before coming to the White House, Ralston served as executive assistant to Abramoff. In her letter, dated Thursday but released to the media toward the end of the day today, Ralston wrote that "the time has come for me to pursue other opportunities."
She could not be reached for comment.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino said the White House would let Ralston's letter speak for itself.
"We appreciate her years of able service and accept her judgment that it's appropriate to step down at this time," Perino said. "She did not want to be a distraction to the White House at such an important time and so we have accepted her resignation."
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, said in a statement that "It looks like the White House is trying to make Susan Ralston the scapegoat."
Waxman said the committee has unanswered questions "about the assistance that Ms. Ralston provided Mr. Abramoff from inside the White House."
"There are also many unanswered questions about the assistance that higher-ranking White House officials appeared to provide Mr. Abramoff," including former White House political director Ken Mehlman, who is now chairman of the Republican National Committee, Waxman added.
Abramoff billed his clients $24,930 for 186 dinners, lunches and breakfasts with White House officials between January 2001 and March 2004, the House committee concluded, and he provided tickets to various events for White House officials during that time as well. It is not known if anyone reimbused Abramoff for the gifts; White House employees are banned from accepting gifts worth more than $20 from lobbyists.
Ralston, the report states, attended only 14 of the Abramoff meals, but she was the most frequent recipient of the tickets. She appears to have received tickets to nine events, including games played by the Washington Wizards and Capitals and the Baltimore Orioles, and concerts by Andrea Bocelli and Bruce Springsteen.
But that didn't seem to be Ralston's biggest problem. In a statement, the House committee wrote that Ralston's "role in brokering requests to Rove from her former boss raises questions, not answered in Committee documents or the report, about some of her activities."
But Ralston was mentioned most frequently in the report as a conduit between Abramoff and the White House, unwelcome news for the White House so close to the midterm elections, with Democrats trying to make an issue out of a "culture of corruption" they accuse Republicans of having wrought.