Ex-Aide To Bush Found Guilty

Former Bush administration official David Safavian is driven away from the courthouse after being found guilty of lying and obstructing justice.
Former Bush administration official David Safavian is driven away from the courthouse after being found guilty of lying and obstructing justice. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A federal jury found former White House aide David H. Safavian guilty yesterday of lying and obstructing justice, making him the highest-ranking government official to be convicted in the spreading scandal involving disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Safavian, a former chief of staff of the General Services Administration, was convicted in U.S. District Court here of covering up his many efforts to assist Abramoff in acquiring two properties controlled by the GSA, and also of concealing facts about a lavish weeklong golf trip he took with Abramoff to Scotland and London in the summer of 2002.

This was the first Abramoff-related legal action to go to trial and face a jury. Several legal experts said the case could embolden federal prosecutors to seek additional indictments against cronies of Abramoff, who has been cooperating with the Justice Department since pleading guilty in January to corrupting public officials.

The jury of 10 women and two men came to its decision on its fifth day of deliberations after hearing eight days of testimony. Safavian, 38, sat silently and without expression as U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman read the verdict aloud.

The jury found him guilty of obstructing an inquiry by the inspector general's office of the GSA and of lying to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, a GSA ethics officer and the GSA inspector general. He was acquitted of obstructing the Senate's probe. He faces up to 20 years in jail and $1 million in fines; sentencing was set for Oct. 12.

Safavian's attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, said she will seek a new trial. Prosecutors "will say how this was a great day in the war on corruption," she said. "I find they made a mountain out of a molehill, and now they're going to plant the flag on top of the molehill."

Safavian is the fifth person to be found guilty in legal actions connected to Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist who has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe government officials. Like Abramoff, the other four negotiated plea agreements and did not go to trial. One of those, Neil G. Volz, a congressional aide-turned-lobbyist, testified against Safavian two weeks ago.

Legal observers cited the effectiveness of Volz's testimony as a strong indication that other Abramoff-related indictments or plea agreements are probably imminent. They asserted that Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) is in particular jeopardy because he took part in the Scotland trip and has been mentioned in a veiled way in Abramoff-related guilty pleas, and because Volz, as Ney's former chief of staff, is in a position to testify against him.

Safavian's conviction "bolsters the credibility of Neil Volz as a witness," said Stanley M. Brand, an expert on ethics law. "This is another building block in the case against Ney."

Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University School of Law, added: "This is the type of conviction that tends to loosen tongues."

Spokesman Brian J. Walsh said in a statement that Ney faces no greater danger of prosecution than he did before the verdict. "The Safavian case had nothing to do with Congressman Ney," Walsh said. "He is confident that . . . he will be vindicated."

Besides Volz, the Justice Department has gotten guilty pleas from Abramoff associates Michael Scanlon, a public relations executive; Adam Kidan, a partner of Abramoff's in a Florida gambling-boat investment; and lobbyist Tony C. Rudy, once a top aide to former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

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