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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Official Offered Abramoff Aid

The administration's top procurement official offered his assistance to now-disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff as Abramoff's lobbying empire began to crumble, according to e-mails released by the White House.

"Let me know if there is anything I can do to help with damage control," David H. Safavian, who is now under indictment, messaged Abramoff on Feb. 22, 2004.

At the time, Safavian was working at the White House Office of Management and Budget. He later became administrator of federal procurement policy at the OMB.

That morning, The Washington Post revealed how four of Abramoff's Indian tribal clients had paid $45 million, most of it to Abramoff partner Michael Scanlon.

Since then, both Abramoff and Scanlon have pleaded guilty in an influence-peddling probe that encompasses Capitol Hill, the Interior Department and the Safavian case.

Safavian faces a trial next month for allegedly making false statements and obstructing investigations into his dealings with Abramoff when Safavian was chief of staff to the administrator of the General Services Administration.

Safavian left the GSA post to take a job at the White House in January 2004. His e-mail to Abramoff a month later about "damage control" was among dozens of e-mails released yesterday by the OMB.

Safavian's attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, said the e-mails show "what we have always said, that these are two friends" who have known each other for more than a decade.

In another e-mail to Abramoff after the lobbyist's practices came under investigation, Safavian explained that he would have to turn down a last-minute invitation for lunch, noting that Abramoff had rejected an earlier offer for the two to get together.

"When you spurned my invite, I called one of the industry sycophants and offered him an opportunity to suck up," Safavian wrote.

Interior Nominee Challenged

The nomination of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) to head the Interior Department cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday, but he now faces a challenge from two Democrats upset with the Bush administration's oil-drilling policies.

The panel approved Kempthorne's nomination by voice vote, but Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who voted "present," said she would seek to hold up the nomination until the administration agreed to share royalties on offshore oil drilling with Gulf Coast states. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) also seeks to place a hold on the nomination because he opposes Bush's plan to drill for oil off the Gulf of Mexico.

"Enough is enough," Landrieu said in the committee meeting. "I intend to end the debate and bring common sense to this area of energy policy in this country."

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said he was confident GOP leaders could force a vote on the nomination so Kempthorne could take the helm at Interior.

"Your cause is not well served by doing what you're doing today," he told Landrieu.

-- Staff writer Juliet Eilperin and news services

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