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Official Changed Story on Trip With Abramoff, Investigator Says

June 02, 2006|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Bush administration executive David H. Safavian told a Senate investigator last year that he accepted free travel from lobbyist Jack Abramoff for a golf trip to Scotland but claimed later that he had paid his share of the chartered jet flight, the investigator testified Thursday.

Bryan Parker, deputy chief investigative counsel for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said Safavian told him in early March 2005 that "he had paid for his part on the ground but not including the airfare."

After Parker's testimony, prosecutors rested their case against Safavian. U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman reserved judgment on a defense motion to dismiss the case for lack of evidence but said he was considering only minor changes, if any, and would leave the five counts largely untouched.

Abramoff chartered a Gulfstream jet for the August 2002 trip to St. Andrews golf course in Scotland then on to London.

Parker said Safavian, chief of staff at the General Services Administration in 2002, also volunteered that GSA ethics officers had authorized him to take the trip because his ex-partner Abramoff had no business ties with GSA. By 2004, Safavian was in a White House agency as chief federal procurement officer.

Safavian is charged with concealing from the Senate and GSA officials the extent of his assistance to Abramoff. Prosecutors have introduced evidence that just weeks before the trip, Safavian was advising Abramoff on how to acquire GSA land in Maryland for a school he started and how to give an American Indian tribe client a leg up on winning a GSA contract to redevelop the Old Post Office, not far from the White House.

But Parker said Safavian told a different story when he sent the Senate panel the ethics ruling on his trip and other documents on March 17, 2005. In that letter, Safavian said even though the GSA ethics office said he could accept the free air travel -- as Safavian had initially requested -- he nevertheless gave Abramoff a check for the full cost, including airfare.

This $3,100 check was delivered to Abramoff at the beginning of the 2002 trip. Safavian's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, has said Abramoff told Safavian that was his share of all costs.

Prosecutors have scoffed at that notion. They introduced evidence of $500-a-night hotel rooms, $100 rounds of drinks and $400 rounds of golf to suggest that it was obvious that each traveler's costs were higher.

Parker also testified that Safavian never mentioned his contacts with Abramoff about the two GSA properties in three telephone calls, a letter and a packet of documents that purported to respond to the committee's request for any material related to the golf trip.

He testified he would have wanted to know about those because Senate investigators had learned that some fees Abramoff collected from Indian clients helped pay for the trip.

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