David Safavian

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David Hossein Safavian was nominated by President George W. Bush as Administrator, Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on January 22, 2004. He resigned Friday, September 16, 2005. Robert A. Burton, OFPP’s associate administrator, took over "managing the office."

On June 20, 2006, in the "first trial to emerge from the scandal surrounding" former business partner Jack Abramoff, Safavian was "convicted on four of five felony counts of lying and obstruction" and the "verdict gave a boost to the wide-ranging influence peddling probe that focuses on Abramoff's dealings with Congress."

Also highlighted in the case was the name of Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH). "A key witness in the case was Neil Volz, a convicted partner of Abramoff's and ex-chief of staff to Ney. Prosecutors introduced hundreds of e-mails exchanged among Safavian, Abramoff, Volz and others in 2002." [1]

Indicted for Corruption
Until Safavian's arrest on September 19, 2005, for making "repeated false statements to government officials and investigators about a golf trip" to Scotland he took in 2002 with Jack Abramoff, the connection between Abramoff's corruption and his connections to the Bush administration had been "relatively weak." [2]

Indicted for Felony
The new five-count felony indictment covers the period May 16, 2002, until January 2004, when Safavian was chief of staff at the General Services Administration. Safavian has been charged with "obstructing a GSA proceeding, obstructing a U.S. Senate proceeding, and making false statements, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division announced." "Each count carries a potential top penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine." --US Newswire/Washington Post, October 5, 2005.

The Arrest

Safavian, the Bush administration’s "top federal procurement officer" in the Office of Management and Budget, was arrested September 19, 2005, "based on a three-count criminal complaint filed in federal court, according to a Justice Department statement." [3]

"The Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal reached into the White House," Dan Froomkin wrote in the September 20, 2005, Washington Post, "picking off" President Bush's "top procurement official -- who just barely had time to resign before being arrested."

"The complaint, filed by the FBI, alleges that David H. Safavian, 38, a White House procurement official involved until last week in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, made repeated false statements to government officials and investigators about a golf trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002," R. Jeffrey Smith and Susan Schmidt wrote in the September 20, 2005, Washington Post.

"According to the Feds' complaint, Abramoff invited Safavian to participate in a trip to Scotland that summer to play golf at the world-famous St. Andrews course. Total tab: $100,000. Safavian received prior approval from his agency's ethics officer. But the Feds say he had neglected to mention that Abramoff at the time was seeking to lease property from the GSA and had sought Safavian's help. When a whistle-blower's complaint led to an inquiry, Safavian falsely told the GSA inspector general, and later the FBI, that Abramoff had 'no business' before the agency, the Feds charge. (Safavian's lawyer denied that Abramoff's leasing efforts constituted 'business' before the GSA and noted that Safavian reimbursed Abramoff $3,100 for the trip. Abramoff's lawyer declined to comment.)," Michael Isikoff wrote in the October 3, 2005, issue of Newsweek.

"Mr. Safavian had recently been working on developing contracting policies for the multibillion-dollar relief effort after Hurricane Katrina." Safavian's "wife, Jennifer Safavian, is chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Government Reform Committee, which is responsible for overseeing government procurement and is, among other things, expected to conduct the Congressional investigation into missteps after Hurricane Katrina," Philip Shenon and Anne E. Kornblut wrote in the September 20, 2005, New York Times.

"And for a White House so desperate to build public confidence in its ability to respond to the Gulf Coast disaster," Froomkin added, "it doesn't exactly help that the man who up until Friday was overseeing contracting policy for the multi-billion dollar relief effort has now been charged with lying and obstructing a criminal investigation."

The FBI Affidavit

"The F.B.I. affidavit, which was dated Friday [September 16, 2005,] and made public on Monday, said that Mr. Safavian had provided extensive, secret assistance to Mr. Abramoff in 2002, when the lobbyist wanted help on behalf of a client to arrange a lease on favorable terms for the Old Post Office Building, which was controlled by the General Services Administration. The affidavit said the client was one of several Indian tribes that Mr. Abramoff has represented," Shenon and Kornblut wrote.

Note: "The GSA obtains all real estate, telecommunications, supplies, protection and security resources for more than a million federal workers in federal offices around the world." [4]

"The court papers said Mr. Abramoff had also sought Mr. Safavian's help in buying 40 acres at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington to be the new home of a Jewish children's school that Mr. Abramoff had founded. That property was also under the control of the General Services Administration.

"Local real estate records suggest that neither property was acquired by Mr. Abramoff or his clients, despite his repeated requests for help in e-mail messages sent to a private account maintained by Mr. Safavian.

"The Justice Department affidavit said that even as Mr. Safavian was trying to help Mr. Abramoff in acquiring the government property in 2002, he was eagerly planning his summer golf trip with the lobbyist to Scotland. The F.B.I. affidavit also suggested Mr. Abramoff's motivation in inviting Mr. Safavian was clear. In an e-mail message, a lobbyist colleagues asked: 'Why dave? I like him but didn't know u did as much. Business angle?'," Shenon and Kornblut wrote.

Safavian's Connections

Josh Marshall of the Talking Points Memo blog has a theory: "Safavian was arrested with the intent of getting him to testify against Abramoff. The DOJ obviously thinks they've got a decent shot if they're targeting him specifically. Safavian's something of a GOP lobbyist Zelig, having ties to not only Jack Abramoff, but also Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Joe Allbaugh, Rep. Chris Cannon, and Rep. Bob Ney," Mike Disharoon wrote September 20, 2005.

"Like Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Safavian, a former Congressional aide, has extensive ties to prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill, throughout the executive branch and among the city's lobbying firms," Shenon and Kornblut wrote.

"He helped start Janus-Merritt Strategies, a consulting firm, with Grover G. Norquist, the head of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform and a close political ally of the Bush administration.

"Mr. Safavian worked with Mr. Abramoff in the Washington lobbying offices of Preston Gates & Ellis, a Seattle-based firm. According to lobbying records, Mr. Safavian shared at least one client with Mr. Abramoff, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and also represented Microsoft, the Port of Seattle and the Dredging Contractors of America," Shenon and Kornblut wrote.

The Capital Athletic Foundation paid $120,000 in August 2002 for Abramoff, Ney [Rep. R-OH], Ralph Reed and then-General Services Administration Chief of Staff David Safavian to go to St. Andrews to play golf with a stop in London on way back. "Ney later claimed that the trip’s purpose was to raise money for a foundation, but there were no fundraising events during the course of the trip." [5]

"That the Bush Administration would turn the keys to the treasury over to this crew is beyond irresponsible. No one could be so blind as not to understand how utterly inappropriate it is that David Safavian is charged with overseeing the federal government's purchasing activities." [6]

Rooted in Gambling

In 2000, David Safavian was a lobbyist for CDM Sports. In October 2000, he addressed the Fantasy Sports Trade Association concerning internet gambling, particularly the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act sponsored by Rep. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona).

He reported that "carveout language that had been negotiated to protect the fantasy sports industry" had been removed and replaced, saying that "much of the new language was drafted and pushed by the NFL." Safavian told the association that it was "unlikely any bill will move forward in 2000 and early 2001. Safavian added that this is a very serious matter and whether the industry likes it or not, the members of the House see fantasy games as the gateway drug to gambling."

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Bush's "global struggle against violent extremism"

Safavian "initially failed to disclose lobbying work he had done for several controversial foreign clients when he went before a Senate panel last year [2004] to be confirmed as chief of the White House's federal procurement office.

"The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held up Safavian's nomination for more than a year, in part because of lawmakers' concerns about lobbying work for two men later accused of links to suspected terrorist organizations, according to committee documents. Safavian did not disclose his firm's representation of the men until questioned in writing by the committee's staff, and initially failed to tell the panel he had registered as a foreign agent for two controversial African regimes," Susan Schmidt and R. Jeffrey Smith reported in the September 21, 2005, Washington Post.

Washington Whispers (US News & World Report) reported September 13, 2004:

"A nominee to a key government procurement post has troubled some on Capitol Hill because of his ties to alleged Islamic extremists. Despite an April hearing on David Safavian 's appointment to an Office of Management and Budget job overseeing $300 billion in government contracts, the full Senate has not held a vote, in part because of lingering questions about his work for the former lobbying firm of White House ally Grover Norquist, now head of Americans for Tax Reform. Lobbying disclosure forms show Safavian worked for Abdurahman Alamoudi, who pleaded [sic] guilty this summer to aiding a Libyan plot to assassinate Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah and was accused by prosecutors of having ties to al Qaeda. Safavian, however, said he never lobbied for Alamoudi. The real client was a man named Jamal al Barzinji, but that's not much better. A 2002 federal affidavit names Barzinji as the leader of a group suspected of aiding terrorists. Safavian told the Senate his work was limited only to pitching the firm to Barzinji."

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"The Senate Office of Public Records has Safavian's lobby filing forms online (here are Abramoff's). Besides representing numerous Indian gaming interests involved in scandals, Safavian and Abramoff both had Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure (part of the Shaw Group) as a client, which is now represented by former FEMA chief and 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign manager Joe Allbaugh. (Shaw is now winning post-Katrina reconstruction contracts.)," the Project On Government Oversight reported September 19, 2005.

Lack of Credentials

The Progress Report called Safavian "the Mike Brown of contract procurement," referring to Michael D. Brown, the recently exposed and recently resigned/fired director of FEMA.

"The former lobbyist and Capitol Hill staffer was handpicked by President Bush to oversee federal procurement policy,... Criticized by some for lacking a background in procurement policy, he will have to prove himself as he tackles highly contentious issues such as competitive sourcing, disadvantaged businesses and suspension and disbarment procedures," Nick Wakeman wrote January 10, 2005, in Washington Technology.

"Here's the story in a nutshell," The Carpetbagger Report reported September 20, 2005:

Despite not having any relevant experience, Safavian was tapped to be the most powerful procurement official in the federal government, where he proceeded to do secret favors for Abramoff, his former employer. When a General Services Administration ethics officer asked about his surreptitious activities, Safavian lied about it.
"And just to make this story truly hilarious, also consider the fact Safavian's wife is — get this — the chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Government Reform Committee. And what does that committee do? It oversees government procurement.
"A few months ago, in an interview with Federal Times newspaper that focuses on the workings of the federal government, Safavian said, 'T]he best advice I've gotten was from my grandfather and that advice is that you've got to have ethics and integrity in everything you do, especially here in D.C.'
"If this were fiction, I'd find it hard to accept because it's too outlandish. And yet, this is all real. Bush's America is a very strange place indeed."

Nomination & Confirmation

Safavian was confirmed November 21, 2004, replacing Angela Styles, "who stepped down to return to the private sector in September 2003. Robert Burton had been acting OFPP administrator while Safavian awaited Senate confirmation." [7]

"His nomination was held up, along with about 150 others last year, by Senate Democrats who objected to a number of administration policies." [8]

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