Abramoff Pressed GSA Contact on Getting Land
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff had more extensive discussions than previously disclosed with a top General Services Administration official regarding federal property the lobbyist sought to acquire around the time the two men went on a $130,000 golf trip to Scotland in 2002, according to papers filed by prosecutors in federal court yesterday.
Former GSA chief of staff David H. Safavian is charged with obstructing justice in telling investigators that Abramoff was not seeking business with his agency at the time he went on the golf trip, which was paid for by Abramoff's Indian tribal clients.
In their filing, prosecutors produced e-mails showing that Abramoff engaged in an aggressive campaign to secure for himself and clients the use of GSA-controlled property, including the Old Post Office in downtown Washington. Among his efforts, Abramoff considered trying to get a provision backing the land acquisition added to a bill being managed by House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), who also went with Abramoff on the golf trip, which prosecutors have called "lavish."
In an e-mail sent to a colleague the day after Abramoff and Safavian returned to the United States on a private jet, Abramoff said: "Had good chats with David during the trip. He wants us to push hard on this project [Old Post Office] and he thinks we can get it."
Safavian's attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, said the case should be dismissed because Abramoff had no real business before the government at the time of the trip. Van Gelder said the new e-mails merely show that Abramoff was seeking information from Safavian, a longtime friend and former colleague.
E-mails filed in 85 pages of exhibits yesterday detail an extensive interaction between the two. "It will be up to the jury to decide the strength of the Government's evidence," prosecutors said in arguing against Van Gelder's request that the court throw out the case.
The e-mails show how Abramoff and members of his team were strategizing among themselves and with Safavian about how to acquire or lease part of 600 acres of the Naval Surface Warfare Center-White Oak in Montgomery County. Abramoff wanted the property for a Jewish school he operated. He also wanted to gain use of the Old Post Office for a tribal client. A key strategy involved getting members of Congress, at Safavian's suggestion, to press the GSA on the issue.
At one point, Abramoff asked a member of his lobbying team, Neil G. Volz, if he could get a provision inserted into an election-reform bill to advance the acquisition of the land. The bill was sponsored by Ney, Volz's former boss.
Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed was also on the trip with Abramoff, Ney, and Ney's chief of staff, William Heaton. Ney, who reported to the House that the trip was paid for by a think tank, is under investigation for allegedly promising to add a provision to the same bill for an Indian tribe attempting to reopen a shuttered Texas casino.
"If we were to craft something oblique, any chance of slipping into the election reform bill?" Abramoff asked Volz. "I know we are loading that up, but I thought I'd ask." Volz replied by saying he wanted to call Safavian at home to discuss it.
Ney's spokesman said he would not comment on Abramoff's e-mail "regarding a hypothetical legislative provision" in the bill. "I fail to see how anything involving Jack Abramoff could be given any degree of credibility," Brian J. Walsh said.
An attorney for Volz did not return a call.
Safavian's lawyer said that she does not think Abramoff even met with Safavian on the day the e-mails were exchanged, as Abramoff asserted in his e-mails. Abramoff, she said, was not technically seeking to do business with GSA. "What Jack Abramoff was doing was getting information to seek to do business," she said.
The total cost of the Scotland trip, which was paid for by funds Abramoff obtained from his Indian tribe lobbying clients, was more than $130,000. Safavian, who had told ethics officers he would reimburse all costs but airfare, gave Abramoff a check for $3,100 to cover his share of expenses associated with the trip, prosecutors said.