At Safavian Trial, You Can't Tell the Players Without a Scorecard

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, June 1, 2006


The way things are going at the David Safavian trial this week, don't be surprised if, in the coming days, a golf cart bursts into Courtroom 29A of the federal courthouse and a pair of Scotsmen ask if they can play through.

"A lot of discussion in this case is about golf," defense lawyer Barbara Van Gelder observed as she cross-examined an FBI agent in the case, the first trial in the sprawling Jack Abramoff bribery scandal.

"That is correct," replied the agent, Jeffrey Reising.

That is also a whopping understatement. Officially, Safavian, a former senior Bush administration official, is on trial for accepting favors from Abramoff while helping the lobbyist penetrate the General Services Administration -- and then lying about it to investigators. But the case is as much about well-tended greens as ill-gotten green: the twosome's obsessive golfing friendship, particularly a lavish golfing trip to Scotland's St. Andrews in 2002 on Abramoff's tab.

Stephen Perry, a former GSA administrator, was called to the stand. "Do you play golf?" queried prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg.

"I don't know if you could really call it golfing," Perry replied, admitting that he played with Safavian at Andrews Air Force Base.

"You played golf with Mr. Abramoff?" the prosecutor wanted to know.

"Yes," the witness admitted, though he said he thought they were only put in the same foursome by "coincidence."

"Nine holes or 18?" Zeidenberg pressed.

"Eighteen," Perry confessed.

The FBI's Reising had to answer a similar line of questioning. "Do you recall what Mr. Safavian's handicap was?" Zeidenberg queried.

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