- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006


The Justice Department argued yesterday it should be allowed to introduce years of e-mails involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff at the upcoming trial of the former top procurement official in the Bush administration.

Some 250 recently discovered e-mails between Abramoff and David Safavian detail the lobbyist’s interest in government-controlled real estate in 2002, when he was arranging a golf trip to Scotland for Mr. Safavian.

At the time, Mr. Safavian was chief of staff to the administrator of the General Services Administration. He later became administrator of the office of federal procurement policy in the executive office of the president.

In the e-mails, Abramoff focused on a piece of property for a private school the lobbyist had founded and on leasing for some of his Indian tribal clients a downtown Washington landmark, the Old Post Office.

Though Mr. Safavian is not charged with conspiracy or fraud, prosecutors say the e-mails should be admissible because they show that Abramoff and Mr. Safavian engaged in a conspiracy that defrauded the public of Mr. Safavian’s honest services as a government official.

“The government must try the case it brought, not the case it wishes it had brought,” Barbara Van Gelder, Mr. Safavian’s lawyer, said in arguing that the e-mails should not be injected wholesale at the start of the case.

In reply, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said the government “can always go back to the grand jury and get a couple of hundred counts” of wire fraud in a revised indictment against Mr. Safavian. But Judge Friedman indicated that may not be necessary and that the government’s legal position on admitting the e-mails may well be the correct one.

Mr. Safavian is accused of falsely telling the GSA’s inspector general, a GSA ethics officer and a Senate committee chaired by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that Abramoff was not doing business with GSA in 2002 when the lobbyist and the procurement official went on a weeklong golf outing to Scotland.

Justice Department lawyer Peter Zeidenberg said the e-mails showing an improper relationship between the lobbyist and Mr. Safavian provide a motive for the statements.

Regarding Mr. Safavian, “the last thing he wants is them sniffing around,” Mr. Zeidenberg said of investigators from the inspector general’s office and the Senate committee.

Mr. Zeidenberg said the Abramoff-Safavian e-mails surfaced in mid-April, as a result of a computer search into archived e-mails by a private firm.

“I feel like this is a law school exam three weeks before trial,” said Miss Van Gelder, saying it was unfair to spring so much new material on the defense so soon before trial. “I am now defending a case three weeks before trial that was not indicted.”

She said “there is no conspiracy.”

If the government can get the e-mails declared admissible for next month’s trial, prosecutors might not have to call admitted felon Abramoff as a witness against Mr. Safavian. Miss Van Gelder said the government does not want to put Abramoff on the witness stand, where he would be subjected to cross-examination about his criminality.

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