- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006


Bush administration official David Safavian told a Senate investigator last year that he accepted free travel from lobbyist Jack Abramoff for a golf trip to Scotland but later claimed that he had paid his share of the chartered jet flight, a congressional aide testified yesterday.

Bryan Parker, an investigator for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said Mr. Safavian told him by telephone early in March 2005 that “he had paid for his part on the ground but not including the airfare.”

After Mr. Parker’s testimony, prosecutors rested their case against Mr. Safavian. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman reserved judgment on a defense motion to dismiss the case for lack of evidence, but said he was considering only minor changes, if any, and would leave the five counts largely untouched.

Abramoff chartered a Gulfstream jet for the August 2002 trip to the famed St. Andrews golf course in Scotland and on to London.

Mr. Parker said Mr. Safavian, chief of staff at the General Services Administration (GSA) in 2002, also volunteered that GSA ethics officers had authorized him to take the trip because his ex-partner Abramoff had no business dealings with the GSA. By 2004, Mr. Safavian was in a White House agency as chief federal procurement officer.

Mr. Safavian is charged with concealing from the Senate and GSA officials the extent of his assistance to Abramoff. Prosecutors have introduced evidence that shows that just weeks before the trip, Mr. Safavian was advising Abramoff on how to acquire GSA land in Maryland for a school that he started and how to give an American Indian tribe client a leg up on winning a GSA contract to redevelop the Old Post Office in Washington, not far from the White House.

Mr. Parker said Mr. Safavian told a different story when he sent the Senate panel the ethics ruling on his trip and other documents on March 17, 2005. In that letter, Mr. Safavian said that even though the GSA ethics office said he could accept the free air travel — as Mr. Safavian initially had requested — he nevertheless gave Abramoff a check for the full cost, including airfare.

This $3,100 check was delivered to Abramoff at the beginning of the 2002 trip. Mr. Safavian’s attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, has said that Abramoff told Mr. Safavian that that was his share of all costs.

Prosecutors have scoffed at that notion. They introduced evidence of $500-per-night hotel rooms, $100 rounds of drinks and $400 rounds of golf to suggest that it was obvious that each traveler’s costs were much higher than that.

Mr. Parker also testified that Mr. Safavian never mentioned his contacts with Abramoff about the two GSA properties in three telephone calls, a letter and a packet of documents that purported to respond to the committee’s request for any material related to the golf trip.

He testified that he would have wanted to know about those because Senate investigators had learned that some fees that Abramoff collected from American Indian clients helped pay for the trip.

Among others on the golf trip were Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, and two of his aides. Prosecutors have introduced evidence that Mr. Ney was helping Abramoff in his efforts to obtain the Maryland property.

Abramoff entered guilty pleas early this year in Washington and Florida.

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