Ex-OMB Official Hit With Charges
The Justice Department on Monday filed criminal charges against David Hossein Safavian, who until last week was a top official at the Office of Management and Budget, for making false statements and obstructing a federal investigation into efforts by former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff to acquire federally owned property in the Washington, D.C., area for an Orthodox Jewish school that Abramoff had founded.
Safavian also allegedly tried to help Abramoff gain control of the Old Post Office Pavilion in downtown Washington for one of his American-Indian clients.
The criminal complaint filed Monday stems from activities surrounding a now-infamous golfing junket to Scotland in August 2002 that included Abramoff, House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), several Ney aides and Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and an old Abramoff friend.
Safavian, a former chief of staff to Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), worked with Abramoff at the law and lobbying firm Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds in 1995, and at the time of the golfing trip had just been promoted to chief of staff at the General Services Administration. GSA oversees thousands of buildings owned or leased by the federal government.
According to an affidavit released by the Justice Department on Monday night in support of the criminal charges against Safavian, the FBI, GSA and Interior Department have been “examining allegations concerning an August 2002 Scotland golf trip that Safavian took with a Washington, D.C., lobbyist (‘Lobbyist A’) and Safavian’s statement regarding Lobbyist A’s dealing with GSA at the time that Safavian accompanied Lobbyist A on that trip.”
Abramoff is not mentioned by name in the affidavit, although his participation in the August 2002 Scotland trip has been well established by federal investigators and the news media.
Beginning in May 2002 until after the August 2002 trip, Abramoff reportedly tried to “acquire approximately 40 acres of land controlled by GSA” at the Naval Surface Warfare Center-White Oak, a federal facility located in Silver Spring, Md., for Abramoff’s school, according to the affidavit.
In addition, Abramoff sought “changes in the regulations governing the development” of the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue. “GSA controlled the building and was considering ways to develop the OPO,” states the affidavit.
Abramoff reportedly sought “contracting preferences that could have given some of Lobbyist A’s tribal clients a competitive advantage in efforts to lease and develop the building,” the affidavit said.
Safavian, who resigned last Friday as administrator of federal procurement policy at OMB, allegedly provided Abramoff with advice on how to proceed in getting GSA approval for both projects.
Safavian was co-founder of the lobbying shop Janus-Merritt Strategies along with GOP activist Grover Norquist, an Abramoff ally who has also attracted Senate scrutiny over his financial dealings with the former lobbyist. One of the clients Safavian lobbied for at Janus-Merritt was the National Indian Gaming Association.
Abramoff and a business associate were indicted in Miami last month on wire and mail fraud charges related to his attempt to purchase a Florida-based casino cruise company in 2000.
Brian Walsh, a spokesman for Ney, said the Ohio Republican had no comment on Safavian’s indictment other than to say that Ney himself has not been contacted himself by any of the handful of federal agencies or grand juries that are looking into Abramoff’s business dealings.
“No federal investigators have contacted the Congressman on this or any other matter connected to Jack Abramoff,” said Walsh.
In travel disclosure documents filed with the House, Ney stated that the National Center for Public Policy Research paid for the Scotland trip, although that organization has now said it did not. The Capital Athletic Foundation, a non-profit controlled by Abramoff, chartered a private jet for the trip, and overall expenses for the junket were well in excess of $100,000, according to The Washington Post.
House Democrats immediately pounced on this latest indictment as further evidence that Ney needs to be voted out of office in November 2006.
“With two of his golf partners arrested in one month’s time, Congressman Bob Ney must be worried about the integrity of his four-some,” said John Lapp, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in a statement. “Every arrest and indictment is a reminder to the American people that this special interest Congress is more concerned with protecting their cronies than fighting for middle class families.”
On July 25, 2002, Safavian sought clearance from a GSA ethics officer about taking part in the Scotland golf trip scheduled for the following month. But Justice Department documents say Safavian “omitted the fact” that Abramoff had business before GSA and that he was helping Abramoff.
On March 26, 2003, an anonymous tipster made a complaint to a hotline run by the Office of Inspector General at GSA “regarding Savafian’s participation in an ‘international golfing trip provided by lobbyists.’”
Safavian was questioned by a GSA official in March and April 2003, but he “falsely represented to the GSA-OIG that Lobbyist A had no business with GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip, and Safavian omitted the fact that he was aiding Lobbyist A in Lobbyist A’s attempts to do business with GSA and seek official action from GSA.”
In late February 2005, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which has been looking into Abramoff’s dealings with a half-dozen Indian tribes, contacted Safavian seeking information on the 2002 junket.
According to the Justice Department affidavit, Safavian again “falsely represented” to the Indian Affairs Committee and its chairman, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), that Abramoff had no business before GSA at the time of the August 2002 trip.
The DOJ affidavit also included information gleaned from numerous e-mails between Safavian and Abramoff, including one from May 24, 2002, shortly after Safavian was invited on the Scotland trip, “asking if GSA had property available for a school.”
Abramoff “solicited Safavian’s assistance and guidance” on the two projects, including having Safavian review a “draft letter purportedly to be sent by at least two members of Congress to the Administrator of GSA” asking for “special consideration” for minority businesses, such as Indian tribes. The Members assisting Abramoff in this action were not named in the DOJ affidavit.
On July 30, 2002, Abramoff sent his wife and two other representatives of his school to met with GSA officials about acquiring land for his school. Abramoff, according to the Justice Department affidavit, “cautioned his wife to avoid using their marital name” during that meeting because of his “high profile politically.”
In May 2005, when interviewed by the FBI at the Old Executive Office Building, Safavian again said that Abramoff did not seek to acquire property from GSA until “significantly well after” the August 2002 trip.
Safavian, whose wife serves as a top aide to Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), on the House Government Reform Committee, did not return several calls seeking comment at press time.
A spokesman for Abramoff’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, declined to comment on the charges against Safavian.