Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ex-Bush aide Safavian gets 18-month prison term

Ex-Bush aide Safavian gets 18-month prison term
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Bush administration official David Safavian was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Friday for lying and obstructing justice in connection with the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal that has ensnared Republicans.

Safavian, 39, a former chief of staff of the General Services Administration (GSA) and ex-White House budget office appointee, received the prison term less than two weeks before elections that will determine whether Republicans keep control of the U.S. Congress.

Besides the Iraq war, ethics breaches have dominated many Senate and House of Representatives campaigns, allowing Democrats to accuse Republicans of fostering a "culture of corruption" in Washington.

"I stand here contrite and ashamed," a tearful Safavian told U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman at his sentencing. He acknowledged he should not have given disgraced Washington lobbyist Abramoff information on the GSA, but did not admit to the four charges of concealing his dealings with Abramoff.

Safavian's lawyers are expected to appeal the conviction, during which time he could remain free.

Before sentencing Safavian, Friedman scolded, "The truth is he doesn't accept responsibility for the offenses" that the judge called "a classic case of abuse of trust."

But Friedman rejected the government's request for a tougher prison term for Safavian. "He did not give or receive bribes, he did not enrich himself ... he did not give away contracts."

Reflecting on the Abramoff lobbying scandal that has engulfed Washington, Friedman said Safavian had joined an "environment that frankly has become more and more corrupt."

In another Abramoff case, Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney pleaded guilty on October 13 to illegally accepting trips, meals and other items worth tens of thousands of dollars in return for doing favors for Abramoff and his clients.

Safavian was with Ney and others on a lavish golf trip to Scotland in 2002 that Abramoff arranged.

Prosecutors said Safavian lied about his involvement in Abramoff's attempts to do business with GSA, including a possible acquisition of a historic post office near the White House.

The White House has played down its relations with Abramoff. Safavian is the only former White House official convicted and sentenced to prison in the scandal.

But earlier this month, Susan Ralston, an aide to President George W. Bush's top political adviser Karl Rove, resigned after a congressional report said she had passed White House information to Abramoff while accepting tickets to sporting and entertainment events from the ex-lobbyist.


Government lawyers said Safavian used his government positions to unfairly advantage Abramoff over three years. They said that when confronted, Safavian lied to protect himself.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to defrauding lenders in a Florida casino-ship deal and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the Washington influence-peddling probe.

On June 20, a federal jury convicted Safavian on four counts of lying and obstructing justice. He was acquitted on another charge of obstructing justice.

Safavian is the only person linked to Abramoff to have gone to trial. Others have pleaded guilty.

Safavian was chief of staff at the General Services Administration from 2002 to 2004. The agency manages government offices and procures material for the federal workforce. After leaving GSA, Safavian became chief procurement officer at the White House budget office.

The Abramoff scandal has touched several members of Congress, mostly Republicans. Two former aides to ex-Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the former House majority leader, also have been convicted. DeLay resigned in June while fighting unrelated campaign-finance charges in Texas and being dogged by questions about relations with Abramoff.