Former OMB official indicted
David Safavian, former head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget, was indicted on charges of obstructing proceedings at the General Services Administration and the Senate and making false statements, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
The charges focus on Safavian's behavior while he was chief of staff at GSA from May 2002 to January 2004. He allegedly made false statements to a GSA investigator and ethics officer about his relationship with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whom the indictment did not explicitly name. Abramoff is currently facing his own grand jury investigations.
Safavian went on a golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff in August 2002 while allegedly helping the lobbyist pursue business deals with the GSA, including an attempt to develop the Old Post Office in Washington, which GSA manages.
According to the indictment, Safavian shared internal GSA communications regarding its plans to lease the Old Post Office, a historic building, and communicated with Abramoff through a private e-mail account.
In an e-mail to a GSA ethics officer about his planned trip, Safavian wrote that Abramoff was "a lawyer and lobbyist, but one that has no business before GSA (he does all his work on Capitol Hill)." Based on that information, the ethics officer gave Safavian permission to go to Scotland. According to the indictment, the trip cost around $130,000 for nine people.
In March 2003, an anonymous tipster called GSA's inspector general's office about Safavian's trip, which prompted the office to open an investigation. During an interview for the investigation, Safavian repeated that Abramoff "had no business with GSA," the indictment stated.
The head of GSA at the time, Stephen A. Perry, announced his resignation Monday.
The indictment also alleges that Safavian made similar false statements to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in February 2005, when the committee was investigating Abramoff's actions in relation to Native American groups and asked Safavian about the golf trip.
Shortly after Justice announced Safavian's indictment his lawyer, Barbara "Biz" Van Gelder, released a statement that said her client will plead not guilty. "This is not a case of guilty as charged. Rather it is an attempt to prove guilt by association," she said. Van Gelder suggested that Safavian was indicted because of his connection to Abramoff and the indictment allows the government "to delay cross-examination of its witnesses or the burden of producing actual evidence of Mr. Safavian's statements."
Van Gelder added that indictments often include information that is later dismissed, and the government will not be able to prove the allegations.
"We note, not without irony, that many of the statements the government relies on to support its charges against Mr. Safavian are statements made by the same Mr. Abramoff. How can he be a scoundrel to the government in so many other cases and its star witness in this one?" she said.
If Safavian is convicted, he faces up to 25 years in jail, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine, according to Justice.
Safavian was arrested Sept. 19 and released on personal recognizance.