WASHINGTON — The lawyer for a former Bush administration official arrested this week says authorities are using the charges to pressure her client to aid their investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
David Safavian was arrested Monday and charged with making false statements and obstructing a federal investigation relating to a 2002 golf outing to Scotland with Abramoff, former Christian Coalition executive Ralph Reed, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and others.
Safavian hid from investigators that Abramoff had business before the General Services Administration, where Safavian was chief of staff in 2002, when they took their Scotland trip, according to federal authorities.
Barbara Van Gelder, Safavian’s lawyer, said her client would fight the charges. He accurately reported that Abramoff was not doing business with GSA at the time of the trip, Van Gelder said.
“This is a creative use of the criminal code to secure his cooperation against someone else,” Van Gelder said in an interview Wednesday.
Safavian, a former Abramoff lobbying associate, abruptly resigned last week as the Bush administration’s top procurement official, three days before his arrest.
He met with an FBI agent in May about the Scotland trip and Abramoff’s interest in acquiring property from GSA, according to the federal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Investigators frequently seek to pressure minor players in complex federal probes as they build a case against their principal target. “You squeeze that person and hope he flips as you work your way up to the top,” said Kirby Behre, a former prosecutor who is a partner at the Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker law firm in Washington.
The Justice Department has declined to comment on the case.
Abramoff, a major Republican fund-raiser with close ties to GOP leaders in Congress, is under investigation for his lobbying activities on behalf of Indian tribes and his role in paying for overseas trips for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The Texas Republican has denied knowing Abramoff paid the expenses.
Separately, Abramoff has pleaded innocent to a six-count federal fraud and conspiracy indictment stemming from his role in the 2000 purchase of a fleet of gambling boats in Florida.
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