Scandal Visits the White House

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, September 20, 2005; 12:24 PM

The Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal reached into the White House yesterday, picking off President Bush's top procurement official -- who just barely had time to resign before being arrested.

The federal charges against David Safavian stem from his tenure as chief of staff of the General Services Administration, predating his arrival at the White House a year ago. But his arrest nonetheless draws renewed attention to the ongoing corruption and influence-peddling inquiry swirling around Abramoff, a lobbyist well known for his connections to conservative Republicans in the White House and Congress.

And for a White House so desperate to build public confidence in its ability to respond to the Gulf Coast disaster, it doesn't exactly help that the man who up until Friday was overseeing contracting policy for the multi-billion dollar relief effort has now been charged with lying and obstructing a criminal investigation.

R. Jeffrey Smith and Susan Schmidt write in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration's top federal procurement official resigned Friday and was arrested yesterday, accused of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with the federal government. It was the first criminal complaint filed against a government official in the ongoing corruption probe related to Abramoff's activities in Washington.

"The complaint, filed by the FBI, alleges that David H. Safavian, 38, a White House procurement official involved until last week in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, made repeated false statements to government officials and investigators about a golf trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002."

Philip Shenon and Anne E. Kornblut write in the New York Times: "The White House said in a statement that Mr. Safavian had resigned on Friday and that 'we, of course, will cooperate fully with the Justice Department in this investigation.' A spokesman said the White House would have no further comment on the arrest. . . .

"His wife, Jennifer Safavian, is chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Government Reform Committee, which is responsible for overseeing government procurement and is, among other things, expected to conduct the Congressional investigation into missteps after Hurricane Katrina."

Shenon and Kornblut note: "The Justice Department did not reveal details of Mr. Safavian's arrest, including where it occurred. The department also did not say why the criminal charges were brought directly by prosecutors, rather than by the Washington grand jury investigating Mr. Abramoff. The Justice Department often bypasses a grand jury when a criminal case is brought together hurriedly or when there is fear that a defendant may try to flee."

Just recently, Safavian was the administration's point man when it came to one of the controversial measures in the White House's recent $51.8 billion supplemental aid request: The boosting from $15,000 to $250,000 of the upper limit for purchases made with government-issued credit cards. Critics said the change will allow card holders to circumvent important measures to curb fraud and cronyism.

Here is the Justice Department's press release on Safavian's arrest.

Here is Stephen Barr 's January profile of Safavian in The Washington Post.

The Project on Government Oversight blog is keeping close tabs on the story. So is Talking Points Memo .

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