Prosecutor Seeks Conviction for Safavian
Monday, June 12, 2006; 7:38 PM
WASHINGTON -- A prosecutor urged a jury Monday to convict a former Bush administration official in the Jack Abramoff influence peddling scandal, saying the official abandoned the public interest in favor of a secret relationship with the lobbyist.
Closing out a case in which prosecutors never put Abramoff on the witness stand, a lawyer for defendant David Safavian said the government had failed to prove its case.
"Where's Jack?" Barbara Van Gelder asked the jury in final arguments. "If the government does not call Jack Abramoff they have not met their burden."
Her client, the General Services Administration's ex-chief of staff, is accused of three counts of making false statements and two counts of obstructing investigations by the GSA's inspector general and a Senate committee chaired by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
The trial is the first arising from the Abramoff scandal. Prosecutors gave no reason for not calling the disgraced lobbyist, who would likely be a witness if the Justice Department assembles cases against any members of Congress. Abramoff has pleaded guilty in criminal cases in Washington and Miami.
Justice Department prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds said Safavian lied to hide his connection to Abramoff, seizing on dozens of e-mails in which Abramoff and Safavian exchanged information about two pieces of GSA-controlled property that Abramoff wanted. The e-mails were written about the time that Safavian accepted a weeklong golfing excursion from Abramoff to Scotland and London.
"Mr. Safavian tried to serve two masters," Edmonds said. "He was appointed by the president to serve the people of the United States, but he chose instead to serve Jack Abramoff."
Safavian "was trying to hide a secret, inappropriate and unethical relationship with Mr. Abramoff," Edmonds said.
Edmonds said that every public official has "moments of truth" in which he can act ethically or unethically and that Safavian failed the test by lying to the GSA's ethics officer, the agency's office of inspector general and a Senate committee.
Safavian made a good-faith effort and he did "the right thing," Van Gelder countered. The GSA chief of staff paid $3,100 which he'd been told by Abramoff covered the cost of the trip and obtained an ethics opinion from GSA clearing the way for the trans-Atlantic trip.
Edmonds said Safavian revealed nothing about the three-day London leg of the trip or the extent of the lavish accommodations. Prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said if Safavian had been candid about the prospective trip, "there would have been questions" about who was paying for it and what business Abramoff had with GSA.
Van Gelder said Safavian told the FBI about his assistance to Abramoff regarding government land in Maryland and the Old Post Office, a downtown Washington landmark, though he said the assistance took place after the Scotland trip, rather than before and during.
"What we have here are innocent errors," said Van Gelder. She said the prosecution is taking "a hairline crack and turning it into a canyon."
Earlier in the day, the judge dismissed a portion of one count of the indictment. The language said Safavian lied by telling a GSA ethics officer Abramoff had no business with the GSA and was not seeking to do business with the agency. There was no evidence during the trial that Safavian ever made such statements to the GSA ethics officer, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said.
The judge left intact the remainder of the count that Safavian concealed his assistance to Abramoff and told the GSA that Abramoff did all his work on Capitol Hill.