By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 16, 2006
At 8:37 p.m. July 27, 2002, a Saturday night, Jack Abramoff sent two e-mails to David H. Safavian, the newly appointed chief of staff at the General Services Administration.
One message went to Safavian's government e-mail address. "Superb!!" Abramoff wrote, expressing his delight that Safavian had been cleared by the GSA's general counsel to go on a golfing trip to Scotland.
The second message, sent to Safavian's personal e-mail, read: "If you can spare a moment, please let me know where I can call you this weekend. If not, chat on Monday. Regards."
The next day, a series of e-mail exchanges between Abramoff and Safavian show that the lobbyist wanted Safavian's advice on how to word a letter to the GSA, seeking use of facilities at the former Naval Surface Weapons Research Center in Silver Spring for a private school Abramoff and his wife had founded. "How about this?" Abramoff asked Safavian in an e-mail with a draft of the letter.
Abramoff was determined to keep his involvement in the project secret from GSA officials. "Do not allow . . . my name to appear anywhere," Abramoff wrote to a colleague at his then-law firm, Greenberg Traurig. He e-mailed his wife: "When you are in the room with David and the other GSA folks, identify yourself as Pam Alexander or Pam Clarke. David [Safavian] does not want Abramoff used in the meeting."
Federal prosecutors released hundreds of e-mails on Friday evening to support charges that Safavian lied to federal officials by failing to disclose Abramoff's business dealings with GSA.
On Jan. 3 this year, Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.
Safavian's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, charged that the public filing of the e-mails amounted to a "press release" designed to pressure her client to cooperate with the Justice Department.
Whether or not the e-mails are allowed into evidence, they document a collapse of traditional borders separating lobbyists seeking favored treatment and the government officials, including members of Congress, empowered to make decisions with millions of dollars riding on the outcome.
Interwoven with the flow of e-mails are discussions of such matters as the interests of Abramoff's Indian tribe clients in converting a part of the old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue into a hotel and in qualifying for special bidding status as "8a" minority contractors. In the e-mails, Safavian and Abramoff also plan parties at Abramoff's restaurants Signatures and Stacks, weekday golf games, the Scotland trip and racquetball.
On Jan. 15, 2003, for example, Abramoff invited Safavian to join him at a weekend golf tournament in Florida. Safavian wrote back: "Wish I could, but you know I am a hard working civil servant, and I have the people's business to do." Abramoff replied, "That is indeed true!"
The next day, Abramoff was back to business. "In order to get around the need for the 8a company to be in business for a few years, we need to involve in the company those with the skill sets and government experience. Consequently, my guys are asking me to find out the first four or five contracts we might be competing for. Can you get me that info really fast?" Abramoff asked Safavian.
On Feb. 7, 2003, Safavian e-mailed the lobbyist, "My folks are set to brief your team on 8a contracting opportunities. Who is the best person to get that briefing?" He added that he was e-mailing from Signatures, and "I love those tempura tuna rolls!"
One of the major roadblocks to Abramoff's efforts to get commercial use of the Post Office building was a career civil servant at the White House Office of Management and Budget, David J. Haun, whose duties included oversight of the GSA.
Safavian e-mailed Abramoff on July 28, 2003:
"The OMB staffer in the way (David Haun) does not realize we have a legislative directive FROM CONGRESS regarding this matter. In fact, we had a letter sent to us by [Reps] Don Young [R-Alaska], Steve LaTourette [R-Ohio], [Sens.] Byron Dorgan [D-N.D.] and Harry Reid [D-Nev.]. . . . What this means is that we will have to go to [OMB director] Mitch Daniels and roll this idiot."
The e-mails indicate that none of the deals Abramoff was seeking at the GSA ever came to fruition. On Jan. 22, 2004, President Bush appointed Safavian chief administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the OMB, and a month later, the Abramoff empire began to crumble.
On Feb. 22, 2004, The Washington Post reported that Abramoff had persuaded Indian tribe casino clients to pay $45 million to a foundation that existed only on paper that was run by Michael Scanlon, who had been an aide to former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.)
At 1:35 p.m. that day, Safavian e-mailed Abramoff, "Let me know if there is anything I can do to help with damage control." Eight days later, Safavian wrote, "Just know that you are in my thoughts and prayers."
On Sept. 16, 2005, Safavian resigned as chief of White House procurement policy. He was arrested three days later.