Former Bush administration official David Safavian acknowledged Monday that he gave advice and some “nonpublic information” about federal properties to Republican influence-peddler Jack Abramoff but denied trying to conceal that from government investigators.
In a second day of cross-examination in U.S. District Court, the former General Services Administration chief of staff made some concessions about his judgment and memory to the detailed and skeptical questions of prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, but he insisted he hadn’t intentionally misled GSA and Senate officials.
Safavian also acknowledged that he told an FBI agent that he had advised Abramoff on two GSA properties in the fall of 2002, rather than — as it actually happened — in the weeks before he took a luxury-filled golf trip to Scotland that Abramoff arranged in August 2002.
“I was just mistaken about the time frame,” Safavian testified.
With seeming disbelief, Zeidenberg asked if Safavian had forgotten that Abramoff first asked about one of the properties just eight days after Safavian joined GSA. And had he forgotten two dozen e-mails they exchanged about the properties in July 2002 and forgotten arranging and attending a meeting with Abramoff’s representatives and GSA officials the day before he left on the trip, the prosecutor demanded.
Memory lapses alleged
Each time, Safavian insisted he had forgotten the dates and was not trying to conceal information from the agent.
Zeidenberg got Safavian to acknowledge that he did not know that the FBI agent already had copies of the July 2002 e-mails at the time of the interview.
Safavian, a former chief federal procurement officer in the Bush White House, is charged with concealing from GSA ethics officials, GSA inspector general investigators and Senate investigators the fact that he aided Abramoff on GSA properties the disgraced lobbyist wanted to buy, lease or redevelop.
Safavian acknowledged that Abramoff e-mailed that he was working on trying to buy or lease 40 acres of the GSA’s White Oak property in Maryland for a school Abramoff set up. Safavian also acknowledged he knew Abramoff “was putting together a team in order to bid” on the redevelopment of the Old Post Office a few blocks from the White House.
But he said he told GSA ethics officials and the Senate the Abramoff was not doing or seeking business with GSA because he believed that to be seeking business someone had to be bidding on a contract and GSA had not decided in 2002 whether to redevelop the post office.
Safavian acknowledged “there were some e-mails I sent him that contained nonpublic information.” He blamed his inexperience and expressed regret over sending e-mails describing the opposition to the post office project of another federal official.
He acknowledged advising Abramoff not to attend meeting about the White Oak property himself, but said it was not to conceal Abramoff’s role but to give the school “a fair shake” on it effort to get the land. Zeidenberg pointed out that Abramoff’s wife attended but did not use her married name and Safavian acknowledged he never told the other GSA official present of Abramoff’s role.
He also said he couldn’t recall specifically telling a GSA inspector general investigator that the 2002 trip included private jet travel and three nights in a $500-a-night hotel in London, but felt certain he must have. The investigator testified Safavian didn’t tell him.
Five pairs of e-mails
Zeidenberg showed five pairs of e-mails, with each pair on one of five 2002 dates. Each time the first was from Abramoff to Safavian at work letting him know he had sent e-mail to Safavian’s home e-mail address and the second, moments later, was to Safavian’s home and discussed one or the other property.
Safavian denied Zeidenberg’s suggestion that this pattern was designed to keep GSA computers from capturing records of their discussion of GSA properties. Safavian noted that he had sent e-mails from his office account about the properties.
Safavian also testified he wouldn’t have taken the golfing trip “if I had known what I know now.”
He added, however, that “it took a Senate investigation to get out the information I didn’t have at the time” about Abramoff’s intentions and plans for projects with GSA properties.
GSA and Senate investigators have testified that they would have wanted to know about the advice. GSA officials testified that knowledge could have altered decisions to permit the trip and to close an investigation of it.