A former White House executive "lied, denied and misled" when officials investigated his relationship with disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, federal prosecutors said Tuesday as they tried to restore their overturned conviction of David Safavian.
But lawyers for Safavian, whose 2006 conviction and 18-month prison sentence was overturned on appeal, told a jury their client was telling the truth about Abramoff and that he tried to pay for his portion of Abramoff's lavish 2002 golf junket to Scotland with lawmakers and congressional aides.
Safavian is the only defendant in the Abramoff corruption case that rocked Washington politics to fight the charges against him at trial. Others charged have pleaded guilty in bargains with prosecutors, including Abramoff himself, former Rep. Bob Ney,R-Ohio, former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles and several congressional aides.
The scandals involving Abramoff, once one of the most powerful men in Washington, and others were played up by the Democrats and were a factor in the 20006 elections in which they won control of both houses of Congress.
The Justice Department's charges of lying and obstruction "are not going to be supported by the evidence you are going to hear from this chair," defense lawyer Richard Sauber told the jury, pointing toward the witness stand.
Four counts of making false statements and a single count of obstruction of justice comprise prosecutors' second attempt to convict Safavian, formerly the Bush administration's top procurement official. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Safavian's conviction last June and ordered a new trial before U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman.
The Justice Department accuses Safavian of trying to hide his relationship with Abramoff, a former business partner, while working as chief of staff at the General Services Administration, the federal government's landlord and housekeeping agency.
"Mr. Safavian lied, denied and misled to cover up what he had done," prosecutor Nathaniel B. Edmonds said.
E-mails between the two men showed how Abramoff showered Safavian with trips and other perks while badgering him for information about two pieces of GSA-controlled property the lobbyist wanted — the historic Old Post Office in downtown Washington and the government's White Oak property in the Maryland suburbs.
Abramoff wanted the White Oak property for a Jewish school he established and wanted to give an Indian tribe client a leg up on obtaining the contract to redevelop the Old Post Office as a luxury hotel.