Investigator: Safavian Changed His Story
Thursday, June 1, 2006; 7:13 PM
WASHINGTON -- Bush administration executive David Safavian told a Senate investigator last year he accepted free travel from lobbyist Jack Abramoff for a golf trip to Scotland but claimed later he had paid his share of the chartered jet flight, the congressional aide testified Thursday.
Bryan Parker, an investigator for the Senate Indian Affairs committee, said Safavian told him by telephone early in March 2005 that "he had paid for his part on the ground but not including the air fare."
After Parker's testimony, prosecutors rested their case against Safavian. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman reserved judgment on a defense motion to dismiss the case for lack of evidence, but said he was considering only minor changes, if any, and would leave the five counts largely untouched.
Abramoff chartered a Gulfstream jet for the August 2002 trip to the famed St. Andrews golf course in Scotland and on to London.
Parker said Safavian, chief of staff at the General Services Administration in 2002, also volunteered that GSA ethics officers had authorized him to take the trip because his ex-partner Abramoff had no business dealings with GSA. By 2004, Safavian was in a White House agency as chief federal procurement officer.
Safavian is charged with concealing from the Senate and GSA officials the extent of his assistance to Abramoff. Prosecutors have introduced evidence that just weeks before the trip, Safavian was advising Abramoff on how to acquire GSA land in Maryland for a school he started and how to give an American Indian tribe client a leg up on winning a GSA contract to redevelop the Old Post Office not far from the White House.
But Parker said Safavian told a different story when he sent the Senate panel the ethics ruling on his trip and other documents on March 17, 2005. In that letter, Safavian said even though the GSA ethics office said he could accept the free air travel _ as Safavian had initially requested _ he nevertheless gave Abramoff a check for the full cost, including air fare.
This $3,100 check was delivered to Abramoff at the beginning of the 2002 trip. Safavian's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, has said Abramoff told Safavian that was his share of all costs.
Prosecutors have scoffed at that notion. They introduced evidence of $500-a-night hotel rooms, $100 rounds of drinks and $400 rounds of golf to suggest that it was obvious that each traveler's costs were much higher.
Parker also testified that Safavian never mentioned his contacts with Abramoff about the two GSA properties in three telephone calls, a letter and a packet of documents that purported to respond to the committee's request for any material related to the golf trip.
He testified he would have wanted to know about those because Senate investigators had learned that some fees Abramoff collected from Indian clients helped pay for the trip.
Among others on the golf trip were Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and two of his aides. Prosecutors have introduced evidence that Ney was helping Abramoff in his efforts to obtain the Maryland property.
Van Gelder tried to suggest that Parker's interest in Safavian was outside the committee's jurisdiction. The defense said Safavian knew nothing about Indian money.
She also pointed out that Parker never pursued the matter with Safavian, but he said he would have gotten to Safavian eventually had the official not been indicted first.
Previously, two GSA ethics lawyers and an inspector general investigator said they, too, never heard from Safavian about his aid to Abramoff on the two GSA properties and would have wanted to know that. They said it could have affected their decision to approve his trip and to close a later investigation of it.
The first defense witness, federal contracting expert Anthony Anikeef, was barred by the judge from offering an opinion on whether the Safavian-Abramoff contacts amounted to doing or seeking GSA business. He was allowed to testify the two properties had not yet been offered for sale, lease or redevelopment.
Abramoff entered guilty pleas early this year in Washington and Florida.