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Ex-White House Aide Charged in Corruption Case
Published on Tuesday, September 20, 2005 by the New York Times
Ex-White House Aide Charged in Corruption Case
by Philip Shenon and Anne Kornblut
 
WASHINGTON - A senior White House budget official who resigned abruptly last week was arrested Monday on charges of lying to investigators and obstructing a federal inquiry involving Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist who has been under scrutiny by the Justice Department for more than a year.


David H. Safavian


Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff leaves the courthouse in Miami August 18, 2005. Abramoff, a central figure in investigations involving House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges he defrauded lenders in a casino cruise line deal.
(Carlos Barria/Reuters)
The arrest of the official, David H. Safavian, head of procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget, was the first to result from the wide-ranging corruption investigation of Mr. Abramoff, once among the most powerful and best-paid lobbyists in Washington and a close friend of Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader.

According to court papers, Mr. Safavian, 38, is accused of lying about assistance that he gave Mr. Abramoff in his earlier work at the General Services Administration, where he was chief of staff from 2002 to 2004, and about an expensive golf trip he took with the lobbyist to Scotland in August 2002.

Mr. Abramoff, a former lobbying partner of Mr. Safavian, was indicted last month in Florida on unrelated federal fraud charges. He is not identified by name in the court papers involving Mr. Safavian's arrest. But "Lobbyist A" in an F.B.I. affidavit could only be Mr. Abramoff based on descriptive details in the documents filed in the Federal District Court here.

The Justice Department said Mr. Safavian had been specifically charged with making false statements to investigators about his efforts at the General Services Administration in 2002 to help Mr. Abramoff acquire two large pieces of government-owned property in the Washington area, including the historic Old Post Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The department said Mr. Safavian had also lied to ethics officials at the agency, which manages federal property, when he sought approval to accept free transportation from Mr. Abramoff for the golf trip to Scotland that summer. According to court documents, Mr. Safavian told the ethics office that Mr. Abramoff had no business with the agency at the time, an assertion that was repeated in a separate interview this May with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mr. DeLay, who has asked the House ethics committee to review his ties to Mr. Abramoff, has come under criticism from Congressional Democrats and ethics watchdog groups for taking a similar golf trip to Scotland with Mr. Abramoff in 2000, including rounds of golf on the fabled course at St. Andrews.

The Justice Department made no accusation in its court papers of any tie between Mr. DeLay and Mr. Safavian nor of any involvement by Mr. DeLay in Mr. Abramoff's effort to buy government property. A spokesman for Mr. Abramoff had no comment on the arrest of Mr. Safavian. Phone calls to Mr. Safavian's home in the Virginia suburbs of Washington were not returned.

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.

Mr. Safavian had recently been working on developing contracting policies for the multibillion-dollar relief effort after Hurricane Katrina.

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.

The F.B.I. affidavit, which was dated Friday and made public on Monday, said that Mr. Safavian had provided extensive, secret assistance to Mr. Abramoff in 2002, when the lobbyist wanted help on behalf of a client to arrange a lease on favorable terms for the Old Post Office Building, which was controlled by the General Services Administration. The affidavit said the client was one of several Indian tribes that Mr. Abramoff has represented.

The court papers said Mr. Abramoff had also sought Mr. Safavian's help in buying 40 acres at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington to be the new home of a Jewish children's school that Mr. Abramoff had founded. That property was also under the control of the General Services Administration.

Local real estate records suggest that neither property was acquired by Mr. Abramoff or his clients, despite his repeated requests for help in e-mail messages sent to a private account maintained by Mr. Safavian.

The Justice Department affidavit said that even as Mr. Safavian was trying to help Mr. Abramoff in acquiring the government property in 2002, he was eagerly planning his summer golf trip with the lobbyist to Scotland. The F.B.I. affidavit also suggested Mr. Abramoff's motivation in inviting Mr. Safavian was clear. In an e-mail message, a lobbyist colleagues asked: "Why dave? I like him but didn't know u did as much. Business angle?"

According to the court papers, Mr. Abramoff replied with another e-mail message: "Total business angle. He is new COS of GSA."

Like Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Safavian, a former Congressional aide, has extensive ties to prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill, throughout the executive branch and among the city's lobbying firms.

He helped start Janus-Merritt Strategies, a consulting firm, with Grover G. Norquist, the head of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform and a close political ally of the Bush administration.

Mr. Safavian worked with Mr. Abramoff in the Washington lobbying offices of Preston Gates & Ellis, a Seattle-based firm. According to lobbying records, Mr. Safavian shared at least one client with Mr. Abramoff, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and also represented Microsoft, the Port of Seattle and the Dredging Contractors of America.

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.

Both Mr. Safavian and his wife graduated from Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University. They have a daughter.

According to his former colleagues in the Bush administration and interviews he gave, Mr. Safavian considered encouraging "competitive sourcing" or outsourcing government work to private contractors to be a primary goal in his job at the Office of Management and Budget.

He did not oversee specific contracts, but instead managed overall guidelines for government purchasing, associates said. In an interview in June with Federal Times, a newspaper that focuses on the workings of the federal government, Mr. Safavian described his work for the office and said that "the best advice I've gotten was from my grandfather and that advice is that you've got to have ethics and integrity in everything you do, especially here in D.C."

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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