Jury Selection Begins in Case Connected to Abramoff

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 1, 2008; 2:44 PM

Jury selection began today in the retrial of a former White House aide on corruption charges linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

David H. Safavian, the former top contracting official in the White House, was convicted in 2006 of obstructing justice and lying to investigators about Abramoff's inquiries about surplus federal property, including the historic Old Post Office in downtown Washington. He was also convicted of concealing facts about a charter jet flight and lavish golf junket to St. Andrews, Scotland, and London in the summer of 2002.

An appeals court tossed out Safavian's conviction in June and ordered a new trial. A grand jury indicted Safavian again in October, accusing the 41-year-old of obstructing justice, lying on a financial disclosure form and providing false statements to an ethics officer, a Senate committee and the FBI.

Jury selection began today and is expected to continue tomorrow. Opening statements are scheduled to begin Dec. 9, and the trial is expected to last nine days, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said. Besides the typical questions about fairness, Friedman also asked jurors: "Do any of you play golf?"

Abramoff arranged an extravagant week-long golfing excursion to Scotland in 2002 that included Safavian and seven others, including then-Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio).

Safavian testified at his trial that he believed the $3,100 he paid Abramoff covered his portion of the trip. But prosecutors said Safavian's check barely covered one-fifth of his portion of the trip's cost.

Abramoff, a former powerhouse Washington lobbyist who admitted running a wide-ranging corruption scheme that ensnared lawmakers, Capitol Hill aides and government officials, was sentenced in September to four years in prison.

More than a dozen people, including Ney, have been convicted in the lobbying scandal, and Justice Department officials said the investigation is continuing. Still under scrutiny are former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and retiring Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.).

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