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Where Did Safavian Work Again?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 21, 2006 11:10 AM

You wouldn't know it from the coverage of David H. Safavian's conviction yesterday for lying and obstructing justice, but some of his criminal activity actually took place while he was working at the White House.

Safavian managed to avoid being frog-marched out of the White House by resigning three days before his arrest.

And it's true that the underlying acts in his case -- helping to assist corrupt super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff in acquiring some properties and accepting a lavish weeklong overseas golf trip -- took place while Safavian was the Bush-appointed chief of staff at the General Services Administration.

But as so many others in Washington have learned before him, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. And for Safavian, some of that cover-up was carried out from his White House office.

Oddly, Safavian's White House connection is barely mentioned in most of the coverage today, even though one of the pieces of evidence introduced against him was actually a note he wrote out on White House stationery.

Astonishingly, in fact, the words "White House" are missing entirely from at least two widely-published stories: The Associated Press article by Pete Yost and the Knight Ridder Newspapers article by Marisa Taylor .

By contrast, Jeffrey H. Birnbaum writes in The Washington Post: "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."

What exactly did Safavian do? Birnbaum writes: "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."

It doesn't look like any of the reporters covering the story, however, made the timetable very clear.

As R. Jeffrey Smith and Susan Schmidt noted in The Washington Post in September -- when Safavian resigned from the White House on a Friday and was arrested the following Monday -- the criminal complaint against him alleged "that Safavian lied about his contacts with Abramoff on three occasions after his initial false pledge to the GSA ethics officer. The first was during a 2003 investigation by GSA's inspector general, who was responding to an anonymous tipster's hotline complaint; the second was in a March 17, 2005, letter to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; and the third was during an FBI interview on May 26, 2005."

Safavian started work at the White House, as its chief procurement officer, in November 2004.

As Michael J. Sniffen wrote for the Associated Press on June 1, prosecutors at trial even went so far as to introduce a copy of a handwritten note on White House stationery that Safavian attached to the letter and packet of documents he sent the Senate panel in March.

Stephen Barr writes in The Washington Post today about the guy who will replace Safavian at the White House: "Paul A. Denett, the president's choice to head the White House's federal procurement policy office, was selected primarily because of his deep knowledge of government contracting. His predecessor, David H. Safavian , had come to the job primarily because of his political connections."

And one final note: One of the victorious prosecutors in the case, Peter Zeidenberg of the Justice Department's public integrity section, is also part of the team of lawyers on the CIA leak case led by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.

Live Online

I'll be Live Online today at 1 p.m. Send me your comments and questions .

Absurd!

Bush fielded two particularly pointed questions today at his joint press conference in Austria. He swatted them away angrily.

Both were based on the latest Pew Global Attitudes Project survey found the following: "The war in Iraq is a continuing drag on opinions of the United States, not only in predominantly Muslim countries but in Europe and Asia as well. And despite growing concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions, the U.S. presence in Iraq is cited at least as often as Iran -- and in many countries much more often -- as a danger to world peace."

The question from a British journalist: "President Bush, you've got Iran's nuclear program, you've got North Korea, yet most Europeans consider the United States the biggest threat to global stability. Do you have any regrets about that?"

Bush: "That's absurd. . . . That is the United States is -- we'll defend ourselves, but at the same times we're actively working with our partners to spread peace and democracy. So whoever says that is -- it's just -- that's an absurd statement."

And then later, a follow-up from an Austrian journalist:

Q: "Mr. President, you said this is absurd. But you might be aware that in Europe, the image of America is still falling and dramatically in some areas.

"Let me give you some numbers. In Austria, in this country, only 14 percent of the people believe that the United States -- what they are doing is good for peace; 64 percent think that it is bad.

"In the United Kingdom, your ally, there are more citizens who believe that the United States policy under your leadership is helping to destabilize the world than Iran.

"So my question to you is why do you think that you've failed so badly to convince Europeans, to win their heads and hearts and minds?"

Bush: "Well, yeah, I thought it was absurd for people to think that we're more dangerous than Iran.

"I -- you know, it's -- we're a transparent democracy. People know exactly what's on our mind. We debate things in the open. We've got a legislative process that's active.

"Look, people didn't agree with my decision on Iraq. And I understand that. For Europe, September the 11th was a moment; for us it was a change of thinking.

"I vowed to the American people I would do everything I could to defend our people, and will. I fully understood that the longer we got away from September the 11th, more people would forget the lessons of September the 11th. But I'm not going to forget them.

"And I understand some of the decisions I've made are controversial. But I made them in the best interest of our country and, I think, in the best interests of the world.

"I believe when you look back at this moment, people will say, It was right to encourage democracy in the Middle East.

"I understand some people think that can't work. I believe in the universality of freedom. Some don't. I'm going to act on my beliefs so long as I'm the president of the United States.

"Some people say, 'It's OK to condemn people to tyranny.' I don't believe it's OK to condemn people to tyranny, particularly those of us who live in the free societies.

"And so I understand. And I'll try to do my best to explain to the Europeans that, on the one hand, we're tough when it comes to the terror. On the other hand, we're providing more money than ever before in the world's history for HIV/AIDS on the continent of Africa.

"I'll say, on the one hand, we're going to be tough when it comes to terrorist regimes who harbor weapons.

"On the other hand, we'll help feed the hungry.

"I declared Darfur to be a genocide because I care deeply about those who have been afflicted by these renegade bands of people who are raping and murdering.

"And so I will do my best to explain our foreign policy. On the one hand, it's tough when it needs to be. On the other hand, it's compassionate.

"And we'll let the polls figure out -- you know, people say what they want to say. But leadership requires making hard choices based upon principle and standing by the decisions you make. And that's how I'm going to continue to lead my country.

"Thank you for your question."

Immigration (Non) Watch

Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post: "In a move that could bury President Bush's high-profile effort to overhaul immigration law until after the midterm elections, House GOP leaders yesterday announced a series of field hearings during the August recess, pushing off final negotiations on a bill until fall at the earliest."

Suskind Watch

Ron Suskind, author of a new book full of front-page-worthy stories about the Bush White House (see my Monday and Tuesday columns ) was on CNN talking to Wolf Blitzer yesterday.

"BLITZER: The relationship that you describe between the president and the vice president is pretty dramatic. And going back to the early days when Cheney clearly had a lot more experience in national security matters. But you write this: 'In the spring of 2002 Bush asked Cheney to pull back a little at big meetings to give the president more room to move, to take charge. Bush asked -- Bush asked Cheney not to offer him advice in crowded rooms. Do that privately.' "

"Talk about that.

"SUSKIND: Well, you know what, the fact is I'm sympathetic to both parties here. Bush is one of the least experienced presidents to come into office. Cheney, the most experienced vice president. They had to work out how they're going to work together.

"Fascinating, what happens after 9/11. There's a change. Because what you see there is Cheney really is embracing the broad, sweeping doctrinaire thinking. What are the big strategies? He essentially creates an architecture, a platform, where Bush can be Bush, a man of action and still be effective as president. That's the relationship. Cheney essentially sets the framework, Bush acts within it.

"BLITZER: But you suggest, though, that Bush didn't want Cheney to upstage him. . . .

"SUSKIND: Absolutely."

Also:

"BLITZER: You're saying the CIA formally concluded that bin Laden wanted Bush re-elected.

"SUSKIND: Well, look -- absolutely true . . . the analysis flowed essentially along those lines.

"The question, the key question, is what it is it about America's war on terror that is such that bin Laden would want it to continue and Bush to continue conducting it? That's the bigger question that was not examined by the CIA, because many of these people there were soon to be pushed out."

And finally:

"BLITZER: One of the other explosive charges you have in the book is that the U.S. deliberately bombed the Al Jazeera offices in Kabul to make a point. You write this: 'On November 13, a hectic day when Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance and there were celebrations in the streets of the city, a U.S. missile obliterated Al Jazeera's office. Inside the CIA and White House there was satisfaction that a message had been sent to Al Jazeera.'

"Are you suggesting that someone in the U.S. government made a deliberate decision to take out the Al Jazeera office in Kabul?

"SUSKIND: My sources are clear that that was done on purpose, precisely to send a message to Al Jazeera, and essentially a message was sent."

Voodoo Economics

The White House yesterday sent out to one of its big mailing lists Rich Lowry 's recent piece for the National Review headlined "The Wonder Of Voodoo Economics."

What's particularly fascinating about that, other than Lowry's remarkable suggestion that tax cuts actually reduce deficits, is that it mocks the president's own father, who coined the term "Voodoo Economics" in the first place.

Last Throes

From yesterday's briefing by Tony Snow and Steve Hadley:

"Q I want to ask you about Vice President Cheney's remarks yesterday. How can the White House justify him standing by his remarks that the insurgency is in the last throes? Can you just explain that, how that could --

"MR. HADLEY: The Vice President explained it yesterday.

"Q Well, then I didn't --

"MR. HADLEY: You can talk to him about it; I thought it was a good explanation.

"Q Why do you think it's a good explanation?

"MR. HADLEY: It's a good explanation, it speaks for itself. I think it points to the fact the significance of what has happened politically over the last two years, that as he said, we are at a point where we have a duly-elected government, a constitution drafted and ratified by the Iraqi people, that is a unity government that has a plan for going forward. And I think you've seen in the last two weeks a lot of efforts by that new government to provide leadership. They're moving forward with a security initiative in Baghdad. They've talked about their objectives going forward, in terms of electricity and security. We are making great progress on this international compact, which you've been writing about.

"I think what the Vice President was saying is things are happening that give in evidence, as our prior discussion does, that this new Iraqi government is stepping forward and taking responsibility. That's a good thing.

"Q I'm sorry, how does that comport with the insurgency being in its last throes, all of what you just said?

"MR. HADLEY: The Vice President talked about the significance of what we're talking about and what it will mean over time for the insurgency. . . .

"Q Just to be clear, the President would agree with the Vice President that the insurgency is in the last throes?

"MR. HADLEY: What I said was the Vice President has explained his comments yesterday, and I have tried to provide a little bit more context for that explanation.

"MR. SNOW: Let me add another point. He's not saying the war is over. You need to be clear about that. But, again, Steve is just pointing out you're seeing increasing evidence of assertiveness on the part of Iraqi citizens and the Iraqi government."

See more about the last throes in yesterday's column .

Karl Rove Watch

Ken Herman blogs for Cox News Service: "Thanks to a morning speech to the National Federation of Independent Business, we now know what Karl Rove does not want his son to do for a living.

" 'Now frankly,' Rove said during a riff on the temporary worker part of President Bush's immigration reform plan, 'I don't want my kid digging ditches. I don't want my kid slinging tar. But I know somebody's got to do it. And we ought to have a system that allows people who want to come here to work to do jobs for which Americans are not lining up.'

"What are those tasks that foreigners are more willing to do than Americans are (other than watching soccer)?

" 'I don't know where you're from,' said Rove, 'but in Austin, Texas in August if you see some guy on top of a roof slinging tar odds are he is not a U.S. citizen.'"

Scooter Libby Watch

The Associated Press reports: "Supporters of Vice President Dick Cheney's indicted former chief of staff have raised more than $2 million since late last year for his legal defense in the CIA leak case.

"Former Cheney spokeswoman Mary Matalin was hosting a fundraiser at her home Tuesday night to help pay the legal expenses of I. Lewis Libby, who is charged with five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI in the Valerie Plame affair."

Bolton Watch

Al Kamen writes in The Washington Post: "Rumblings are that the White House is looking for ways to keep controversial U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton in his post well beyond the expiration of his recess appointment at the end of this year. . . .

"The White House can re-recess-appoint Bolton. But federal law would bar him from being paid. He could work for free, though."

Kamen also notes Tony Snow's faint praise for Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, and Bush's recent urging of Republicans to make sure that Bill Frist remains Senate leader after the midterm elections -- apparently forgetting that Frist is leaving the Senate in six months.

Cable Watch

Taking note of the astonishingly grim picture painted by this cable from the U.S.'s own embassy in Baghdad, the New York Times editorial board writes: "Mr. Bush's six-hour visit to Baghdad was mostly spent inside the Green Zone, where he made much of what he had been able to learn from looking Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki 'in the eyes.' Now that he's home, Mr. Bush needs to take a hard, unfiltered look at the more disturbing picture relayed by America's embassy."

Kirit Radia writes for ABCNews.com: "ABC News has . . . learned that President Bush read the cable on his way to Baghdad during his surprise visit to the new Iraqi government last week. . . .

"When asked to respond to the cable today, a State Department spokesman responded broadly, saying: 'Yes, there are problems. Yes, there are challenges. We are working to solve them. The Iraqi government is working to solve them. But broadly speaking, you've got some very positive things going on.' "

Bear Hug

Julia C. Mead , in the New York Times, tells the story behind this remarkable sequence of photos : "Gabriel Whitney says he did not plan to nearly suffocate President Bush in a bear hug. In fact, he did not plan to hug him at all.

"But when Mr. Whitney, one of 202 midshipmen to graduate from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., on Monday, stepped forward to receive his diploma, it just sort of happened."

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