By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 27, 2006
A jury was presented with scores of damaging e-mails yesterday that showed lobbyist Jack Abramoff angling for inside information from then-General Services Administration chief of staff David H. Safavian -- and Safavian doing what he could to accommodate his longtime friend.
For the second day, jurors listened as FBI agent Jeffrey Reising read through communications between the two in 2002 and 2003, as Abramoff wheedled for advice and information about government properties he sought to acquire, signing off many e-mails with invitations to play golf, or to take Safavian to watch the Wizards or the Ravens from his box seats.
Safavian, who went to Scotland in the summer of 2002 on a luxury golf trip arranged by Abramoff, is on trial in U.S. District Court on charges of lying to GSA officials when he told them Abramoff had no business before his agency and obstructing investigations into the trip.
Abramoff had a charity he founded, the Capital Athletic Foundation, pay the cost of the trip, then arranged for Indian tribes and other lobbying clients to pay the foundation. Also along for the $91,465 Gulfstream II charter flight from BWI to Scotland and London were former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and several of Ney's aides.
Under questioning from Safavian's attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, Reising said the FBI has no reason to believe that Safavian knew who was really paying for the trip, nor the actual full cost.
Van Gelder sought to portray Safavian as open and honest with federal investigators who were interested only in gaining his cooperation in their investigation of Abramoff, who has since pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy to bribe public officials. In his first interview a year ago with the FBI, Reising testified, Safavian said he realized his career was on the line and said, "If I could throw someone under the bus, I would."
Safavian got clearance from his agency to go, saying it was a personal trip and he was paying his own way at a cost of $3,100. Financial records presented yesterday showed that in addition to the jet Abramoff chartered, Safavian's costs included about $2,100 in hotel bills in Scotland, and more bills at the luxury Mandarin hotel in London.
Van Gelder said two congressional aides she has subpoenaed to appear as defense witnesses have informed her they will decline to testify, asserting their rights against self-incrimination. She identified them as William Heaton, Ney's chief of staff, and Paul D. Vinovich, a lawyer on the House Administration Committee, a panel chaired by Ney until he was forced to step down because of the corruption probe. Both have informed the House they have received subpoenas, according to the Congressional Record.
Safavian was working as the White House's chief procurement officer when he was arrested last September. While at GSA, he was involved in overseeing the purchase and leasing of government property. One of the parcels Abramoff wanted to acquire was in White Oak, Md., on land where Abramoff hoped to relocate a Jewish academy he founded. The second was the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, midway between the White House and Capitol Hill. Abramoff wanted to convert the historic but underused structure into a luxury hotel, bringing his tribal clients into the deal.
"Will we get an advantage if the tribe is a partner in the structure? How big a share should they have?" Abramoff queried Safavian, looking for an edge in gaining the property. Responded Safavian: "The answer to your question is having the tribe involved will help significantly."