New E-mails Illustrate Abramoff's Doggedness

The disclosure by federal prosecutors of more than 200 e-mails from lobbyist Jack Abramoff sheds new light on how the disgraced Washington power broker worked tirelessly to provide perks and favors to a former Bush administration official in a quest for favorable treatment from the government.

Abramoff, the e-mails show, bombarded then General Services Administration chief of staff David Safavian—who later worked in a senior position at the White House—with offers of sports tickets, golf outings, a lavish overseas trip and a lucrative job with his prestigious lobbying firm. At the same time, the e-mails show, Safavian offered to set up meetings and briefings for Abramoff and his associates and provide insider information that could have potentially benefitted his lobbying clients. Although there is no evidence that any of the deals actually came off, prosecutors say they illustrate how Safavian, who is due to stand trial next month on charges of lying to the FBI, "spent his energies looking out [for] Mr. Abramoff's interests." In an Aug. 12, 2002, e-mail, Safavian responded to one of Abramoff's associates who asked about arranging a GSA briefing for the chief executive of a software company being represented by Abramoff's firm. "I'd be happy to put that together," Safavian wrote. "What I would suggest is that we do two meetings … one with me where I can put on a dog and pony show, and a follow up with our commissioner at the [GSA's] Federal Technology Service." The commissioner, Safavian added, "has some critical information she can import to you and your client. I can orchestrate an impressive meeting with your client with relative ease." The timing of that and other e-mail exchanges is potentially important because they came just days after Safavian returned from a $130,000 golfing outing to the famed St. Andrews Course in Scotland that was organized by Abramoff. The itinerary for the trip, disclosed for the first time, show that the Abramoff party—which also included Ohio Rep. Robert Ney and well-connected Republican Party strategist Ralph Reed—involved a non-stop whirl of golfing and expensive dinners that the Abramoff party was driven to by "luxury coach." At the last minute, a London leg of the trip was added by Abramoff—apparently so he could have a meeting with one of his clients, Alexander Koulakovsky, a Russian energy executive whose role in financing congressional trips for Rep. Tom Delay and a non-profit group, the U.S. Family Network, run by Delay's former chief of staff, Ed Buckham, has come under scrutiny as part of the Abramoff investigation. Safavian's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, denounced the prosecutors for releasing the e-mails on Friday as part of an accompanying court pleading. The court filing, she says, was a "press release" designed to place "inadmissible hearsay documents into the public record." Many of the documents, she said, are "totally irrelevant" to the charges against her client and are "misleading" because they show Safavian either turned down many of Abramoff's offers of perks or paid for the expense with his own money. "This is the government's attempt to inflate a flat case with hot air," she says. The much overlooked case of Safavian is considered a significant milestone for the Justice Department in the ongoing Washington corruption probe spurred by the revelations of Abramoff's activities. A former congressional staffer, Safavian moved over to the White House as chief of procurement policy for the Office of Management and Budget after working as chief of staff for GSA. He abruptly resigned on Sept. 16, 2005, three days before he was arrested by the FBI on charges that he lied to federal agents about his dealings with Abramoff. Lawyers with clients in the broader corruption probe are watching the case closely. Most importantly, it will be the first trial where Abramoff is likely to take the stand, providing an early test of how well he holds up as a cooperating government witness. Van Gelder, an experienced trial lawyer, is planning a vigorous cross examination designed to portray Abramoff as a chronic prevaricator and embellisher who repeatedly deceived her client as well as everybody else. How Abramoff fares could prove critical to the government as it seeks to expand its investigation to include members of Congress and other congressional staff members based on Abramoff's testimony. The high stakes may well explain the Justice Department's decision to release the emails—a hardball tactic that appeared designed to pressure Safavian or at the very least, embarrass him on the eve of trial, scheduled for next month. The charges against Safavian are relatively narrow: He is accused of lying to first a GSA ethics officer and then the FBI when he told them that Abramoff had no "business" before the GSA at the time that he accepted Abramoff's offer to go on the August 2002 golfing trip to Scotland. Safavian reimbursed Abramoff $3,100 for the trip—a fraction of what federal prosecutors say is the $15,000 that would have been his pro-rated cost for the excursion. But in releasing the e-mails, prosecutors said in their court filing, they wanted to show Safavian's motive for allegedly lying about his dealings with Abramoff. "The e-mails demonstrated that Mr. Safavian's relationship with Mr. Abramoff was highly inappropriate," the prosecutors wrote. They make "abundantly clear that rather than using his best efforts solely and exclusively on behalf of the general public, he maintained a constant lookout for ways he could benefit Mr. Abramoff." One of the prime examples cited by prosecutors came on Feb. 7, 2003, when Abramoff was looking to lease GSA property in Maryland for the Eshkol Academy, a private Jewish school that the orthodox lobbyist had set up and ran through a non-profit foundation. Safavian writes back to Abramoff at 12:30 p.m. that day while eating lunch at Abramoff's restaurant, Signatures. "Jack—four quick things," Safavian wrote. "1. We just went to ORANGE alert status for terrorism. Fyi. 2. My folks are set to brief your team on 8a [minority set-aside] contracting opportunities. Who is the best person to get that briefing? 3. Still trying to find some space for Eshkol. 4. I'm sitting at Sigs. I love those tempura rolls!" The e-mails are peppered with invites by Abramoff to Safavian to join him at his luxury boxes to watch the Washington Redskins, the Baltmore Ravens, the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals. At the same time, Abramoff is constantly peppering Safavian with requests. "Can you find out if you guys have control of any part of a huge federal property called the White Oak Federal Research Center, off New Hamsphire Ave. in Silver Spring [Md.]?" Abramoff wrote Safavian to his home e-mail on a Sunday afternoon, June 30, 2002. "I want to try to get 40 acres of that tract if possible for a non-profit. Is it doable?" "I will do some digging," Safavian wrote back two hours later. "I have a need to buy a stretch limo for the restaurant," Abramoff e-mailed Safavian on Aug. 21, 2002. "Are there any coming up on any of the GSA drug property sales?" Meanwhile, Abramoff suggested Safavian come to work with him at lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig—an idea that Safavian for a while took seriously. "You're next!" Abramoff wrote Safavian after forwarding an e-mail on Feb. 7, 2002, from Neil Volz, Ney's chief of staff, announcing that he was leaving "Team Ney" to go work for Greenberg Traurig. A few weeks later, in late February, Safavian—then working for Rep. Chris Cannon—apparently interviewed for a position at Greenberg and e-mailed Abramoff: "It's down to me and one other candidate. I should know definitively by next week. I am interested in moving the ball forward. Let me know how you want me to proceed." But Safavian in the end decided to forgo the Greenberg post to work—at least at first—for the GSA. But the idea of going to work with Abramoff later apparently was on his mind all along. When he didn't get a firm offer with "numbers" from Greenberg, Safavian wrote Abramoff on April 30, 2002: "But I think that is just as well, as my gut is telling me to take the GSA job before joining up with you and your band of merry men."