Scotland travel records for Rep. Bob Ney and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed spilled onto the public record in a federal criminal trial Friday, underscoring potential peril for politicians in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
In the first case arising from the Abramoff influence peddling probe, an FBI agent read out the names of the participants on a weeklong golf excursion to Scotland and London that Ney, R-Ohio, Reed and two congressional staffers went on with Abramoff in August 2002.
Ney is seeking re-election, and Reed is running for Georgia lieutenant governor.
The records show that the private jet chartered by Abramoff cost $92,000, while the golfing party enjoyed accommodations at luxury hotels in Scotland and London that cost thousands of dollars for each participant.
Ney’s chief of staff, William Heaton, was on the trip, as was Paul Vinovich, counsel to the House Administration Committee, which Ney chaired. Ney has stepped down from that post amid the ongoing Abramoff investigation. Also on the Scotland trip was Neil Volz, Ney’s previous chief of staff who in 2002 had just gone to work for Abramoff. Volz has pleaded guilty in the criminal investigation of the lobbyist and is slated to testify in the criminal trial.
Abramoff paid Reed’s businesses to mobilize Christian voters against casinos that would compete with Abramoff’s Indian tribe clients. Reed has said repeatedly that he regrets his work with Abramoff.
The travel records about Ney, Reed and the others surfaced in the trial of long-time Abramoff friend David Safavian, the former top procurement official in the Bush administration.
Safavian is defending himself against charges that he lied to investigators about his relationship to Abramoff.
E-mails crucial to the case
E-mails between Safavian and Abramoff are a major part of the government’s case. With one set of e-mails, prosecutors suggested Safavian was taking his cues from Abramoff on proposed redevelopment of the Old Post Office, a landmark in downtown Washington.
Based on Safavian’s representations that Abramoff had no business pending before the General Services Administration, the GSA allowed Safavian to go on the weeklong golfing excursion with Abramoff to Scotland and London. Safavian was chief of staff to the GSA’s administrator.
The GSA is the federal landlord, overseeing 8,000 buildings around the country including the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, which Abramoff wanted as a redevelopment project for some of his American Indian tribal clients.
Abramoff had a luxury hotel in mind, but a campaign was under way by others to turn the post office annex into a women’s history museum.
Safavian filled in Abramoff on a meeting with supporters of the museum and Abramoff minced no words in his response.
“What idiots!” the lobbyist wrote. “This would kill any five star hotel for sure.”
Defense lawyer Barbara Van Gelder struggled to show that Safavian was open to all options for redeveloping the Old Post Office, but prosecution witness and career GSA employee Anthony Costa cast doubt on that assertion.
Costa said Safavian “did not seem supportive” of the women’s campaign enlisting aid from Congress, a step that could have led to a congressional mandate that the Old Post Office annex become a museum, thwarting Abramoff’s vision.
In the midst of the Abramoff scandal, the facility has yet to be redeveloped.
“Right now, no one is real interested in talking about the Old Post Office,” Costa testified.