A Detour in The Corridor Of Power

Safavian got his start in Washington with a firm where Jack Abramoff was a prominent lobbyist. Safavian later moved to a congressional office.
Safavian got his start in Washington with a firm where Jack Abramoff was a prominent lobbyist. Safavian later moved to a congressional office. (Melina Mara/twp - Twp)
By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Before he was indicted on five felony counts of lying to investigators, David H. Safavian was positioned to break out of the pack of Republican operatives working in Washington.

Just 38, he was administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the president's Office of Management and Budget, with the authority to make the rules governing $300 billion in annual expenditures, including those in response to Hurricane Katrina.

But that was before federal agents appeared at his home on Sept. 19 and arrested Safavian in connection with the investigation of Jack Abramoff, charging that Safavian lied about his dealings with the onetime powerhouse lobbyist and misled investigators from the General Services Administration and the Senate.

Knowing the indictment was imminent, Safavian had resigned his post three days earlier, derailing a government career he had carefully planned and skillfully executed.

Safavian's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, said the indictment is mainly a tactic by prosecutors to force Safavian to testify against Abramoff. At a hearing Monday, she demanded documents from the Abramoff criminal investigation that refer to Safavian.

Abramoff is under investigation by the Senate and several government agencies in connection with $82 million he and a partner charged Native American groups for lobbying and public relations services and other matters dealing with elected and appointed officials. He also has been charged with wire fraud and conspiracy in connection with the purchase of a casino cruise company in Florida.

Those close to Safavian say that whatever the outcome of the charges against him, he faces serious, if not insurmountable, obstacles to getting his career in Washington back on track.

Safavian set out a decade ago to win the backing of influential conservative Republicans such as Abramoff and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist. In the intense competition for power in Washington, Safavian climbed the political ladder in the relatively short span of 10 years.

With a degree from the Detroit College of Law and a master's in tax law from Georgetown University, the Pontiac, Mich., native began as an associate lobbyist in 1995 at Preston, Gates and Ellis, where Abramoff was a lobbyist. Later he worked as a principal at Janus-Merritt Strategies, where Norquist was a consultant.

Safavian represented controversial but often lucrative clients, including the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the Distilled Spirits Council, the Interactive Gaming Council and the National Indian Gaming Association.

An Iranian American, Safavian was a founding member of the board of Norquist's Islamic Free Market Institute, when the Bush campaign was targeting Arab American voters in key states such as Florida and Michigan.

Norquist, who welcomed Safavian to the board of the institute in 1999, declined to answer questions about Safavian.

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