Abramoff Jury Restarting Deliberations From Scratch
Wednesday, June 14, 2006; 5:30 PM
WASHINGTON -- Jurors in the David Safavian trial completed their first day of deliberations Wednesday without deciding whether the former Bush administration executive covered up assistance he gave Republican influence-peddler Jack Abramoff.
The jury of 10 women and two men is weighing charges that while Safavian was the General Services Administration's chief of staff, he obstructed justice and made false statements. He is accused of concealing from GSA ethics officials and Senate investigators how he helped the disgraced lobbyist try to buy or lease two government properties.
In the first trial to arise from the Abramoff scandal, the jury deliberated for about five hours. Jurors were to return Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman on Wednesday morning dismissed one juror, seated the only remaining alternate juror, a woman, and told the revised jury to "put all your previous deliberations aside and start all over again."
Friedman granted a government motion, over defense objections, to dismiss a female juror for apparently discussing the case with her father in violation of the judge's instructions.
Friedman said he doubted it would be hard to start over from scratch because the jurors had the case for less than two hours on Tuesday and had not discussed it in substantive detail before the problem with the juror arose. The judge questioned that juror and two others Tuesday before sending everyone home while he decided what to do.
In dismissing the juror, Friedman said he questioned her credibility and she had refused to follow instructions, had done independent research and had talked to people she should not have about the case.
Two jurors told the judge Tuesday they heard the offending juror say she had discussed the costs of a golf trip to Scotland with her father. Safavian's expenses for an August 2002 golf trip to Scotland arranged by Abramoff have been an issue in trial testimony.
Friedman also denied the jury's request for a dictionary and told them to ask him if they needed definitions.
Abramoff, the former business partner of Safavian, was never called to testify, a point Safavian's defense lawyer emphasized in closing arguments Monday.
The defense characterized the trial as a clear case of prosecutorial excess. The government depicted Safavian as an ethically challenged public servant trying to serve two masters.
Prosecutors introduced dozens of e-mails in which Abramoff and Safavian exchanged information about two pieces of GSA-controlled property that Abramoff wanted for himself or his lobbying clients. Many of the e-mails were written in the weeks before Safavian joined the weeklong trans-Atlantic golfing jaunt organized by Abramoff.
Defense lawyer Barbara Van Gelder said Safavian "was trying to do the right thing" when he got approval from GSA ethics officers for the golfing excursion to Scotland and London and paid Abramoff $3,100 for his share of the expenses.
Prosecutors scoffed at the idea anyone could think $3,100 would cover the chartered jet fare, $400 and $500-a-night hotel rooms, $400 rounds of golf at the famed St. Andrews course and $100 rounds of drinks.
Prosecutor Nathaniel 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 told the truth, "there would have been questions" about who was paying for it and what business Abramoff had with GSA. Safavian told the ethics officers that Abramoff did all his work on Capitol Hill, a statement Van Gelder said is "literally true."
She said the government failed to prove its case by not summoning Abramoff to testify.
Prosecutors gave no reason for not calling Abramoff, who would likely be a witness if the Justice Department assembles criminal cases against any members of Congress. Abramoff has pleaded guilty to crimes in federal courts in Washington, D.C., and in Miami.