- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A former congressional aide and lobbyist described yesterday how he obtained insider information, advice and assistance from Bush administration procurement chief David Safavian to advance two projects for Republican influence-peddler Jack Abramoff, who then took the official on a lavish golf trip to Scotland.

The aide, Neil Volz, who was a partner of Abramoff’s at the time, also outlined how the Abramoff team received assistance from several Republican congressmen, including Reps. Bob Ney of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Don Young of Alaska and Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio.

Within weeks after this assistance, Mr. Safavian, Mr. Ney and two of Mr. Ney’s staff members accompanied Abramoff, Volz and other Abramoff associates on a golfing trip to the famed St. Andrews course in Scotland and then to London. Volz said the bills for $500-a-night hotel rooms, $100 rounds of drinks, $400 rounds of golf, dinners and travel on a private Gulfstream jet were paid by Abramoff and his staff and he never saw Mr. Safavian pay for any expenses.

Mr. Safavian’s attorney has said he paid Abramoff $3,100 to cover his hotel and golf fees, but prosecutor Nathaniel Edmunds used Volz’s descriptions of the costs to suggest the trip was more expensive.

The Abramoff team sent Mr. Ney partially filled out financial disclosure forms for him to file with Congress that understated the cost of the trip at $3,200, said Volz, who was once Mr. Ney’s chief of staff.

“I thought that number passed the smell test,” Volz said, explaining that he hoped that reporters searching public records for travel abuses would pass right over it without asking questions.

Volz is the government’s star witness in the trial of Mr. Safavian on charges of lying to investigators about his assistance to Abramoff while he was chief of staff to the administrator of the General Services Administration, the agency that oversees property owned by the federal government. The prosecution turned his testimony into a tutorial on how a lobbyist such as Volz, who already has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for some of this behavior, gathers information, rewards officials who help out and tries to operate in secrecy.

Mr. Safavian, who has denied any impropriety in his relations with ex-partner Abramoff, later became the federal government’s top procurement official at the Office of Management and Budget before he was indicted.

Volz added flesh-and-blood details to a series of e-mails the government had introduced earlier showing contact between Abramoff’s team and Mr. Safavian in the summer of 2002, before several of those involved, including Mr. Safavian and Mr. Ney, took an expensive weeklong golfing trip to Scotland that Abramoff organized.

Volz testified that the Abramoff team referred to Mr. Safavian as a “champion” because he could get inside information on policy developments that was not otherwise available to lobbyists.

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

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