Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ex-Bush official linked to Abramoff convicted

Ex-Bush official linked to Abramoff convicted
By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former Bush administration official was convicted on Tuesday of lying about his links to Jack Abramoff, a disgraced lobbyist whose ties to powerful Republicans have embarrassed the party.

A federal jury found David Safavian -- a former chief of staff at the General Services Administration -- guilty of four of five counts of lying and obstructing justice in the first trial to be held in connection with the Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.

Safavian, who showed little emotion as the verdict was read, was cleared of one count of lying to Senate investigators looking into the Abramoff scandal, which could hurt Republicans leading into November's midterm vote.

Federal prosecutors had painted Safavian as someone who took advantage of his position to help Abramoff, a former top Washington lobbyist with strong ties to congressional leaders, particularly Republicans.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to fraud and is cooperating with prosecutors in a corruption probe that could bring down more officials and lawmakers. Abramoff supplied prosecutors with many of the e-mails between himself and Safavian that were used to convict the former Bush administration official.

The trial, which began on May 24, included testimony and numerous e-mails to support government arguments that Safavian lied about his involvement in and knowledge of Abramoff's efforts to do business with the GSA.

Former Republican House of Representatives leader Tom DeLay, once one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, resigned after becoming embroiled in the scandal. Two of his former aides and a former aide to Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in the investigation of a conspiracy to bribe members of Congress.

Safavian, a GSA political appointee from 2002 to 2004 who later worked in the White House budget office, was the first government official to be indicted in a case related to the Abramoff scandal.

On the fifth day of deliberations, the jury found him guilty of lying about his relationship with Abramoff and his knowledge of the lobbyist's interest in acquiring property from GSA, the property managing agency for the U.S. government.

The jury also found that Safavian lied to a GSA ethics officer when he sought approval to go on an Abramoff-sponsored luxury golf trip to Scotland in 2002. The jury said Safavian had concealed his assistance to Abramoff in GSA-related activities and had also obstructed justice in an agency investigation.

Safavian faces up to 20 years in prison for the four counts. Sentencing was set for October 12.

His attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, said she would appeal and seek a new trial. She said Safavian did not think he had done anything wrong and did not intend to obstruct investigations.

"I've always been perplexed as to why the Justice Department decided to take out the howitzers against Mr. Safavian," she said after the verdict was read. "They made a mountain out of a molehill and now they're going to climb atop the molehill and plant a flag."