A Bush administration official acted properly and was not trying to arrange government real estate deals for long-time friend Jack Abramoff, a defense lawyer suggested Thursday.
In the second day of the first trial emerging from the Abramoff influence peddling scandal, the attorney for defendant David Safavian struggled to show that her client was open to all options for redeveloping the Old Post Office in downtown Washington.
Questioning a career employee at the General Services Administration, Safavian attorney Barbara Van Gelder elicited details about the various proposed uses for the historic landmark on Pennsylvania Avenue, trying to show that Safavian was a neutral participant in internal discussions.
At one point, the witness, Anthony Costa, recalled a meeting where Safavian did not support using an annex to the Old Post Office for a women’s history museum.
Prosecutors are portraying Safavian as engaging in a pattern of deception to hide his assistance to Abramoff from his own GSA colleagues.
Safavian is on trial for allegedly lying when he told investigators that Abramoff had no business with the GSA. Safavian’s attorney contends he is being prosecuted simply because he was friends with the now convicted lobbyist.
Government property singled out
On Wednesday, Costa, whose GSA office oversees 350 million square feet of federal office space, testified about his puzzlement over Safavian’s focus on a single government property in Silver Spring, Md.
Safavian, said Costa, was tying up agency time on behalf of a nonprofit group that hoped to use government property for a private school.
“We were spending a lot of time” on a project that was “probably going nowhere,” Costa testified.
Costa wasn’t told that Abramoff, the school’s founder, was behind the push.
The day after a meeting on the school project at GSA that Safavian arranged and which Costa attended, Safavian went on an Abramoff-organized weeklong golf excursion to Scotland and London.
Costa said he knew Safavian would be vacationing in Scotland, but that Safavian didn’t say whom he would be traveling with. Nor did Safavian say there was any connection between the people he would be golfing with in Scotland and the private school that had been the subject of the meeting, Costa testified.
Federal prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds asked Costa whether he would be surprised to learn that Safavian “had a role” in writing a letter the school sent to the GSA.
“Yes,” Costa replied.
Before becoming the White House procurement chief, Safavian was deputy chief of staff, then chief of staff to the administrator of the General Services Administration.