Safavian Found Guilty in Abramoff Lobbying Case

A federal jury finds a former Bush administration official guilty of lying and obstruction. David Safavian was the chief of staff at the General Services Administration, which manages federal real estate. He's the first person to stand trial in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

A federal jury here in Washington has found a former Bush administration official guilty of lying and obstruction. David Safavian was the chief staff at the General Services Administration, which - among other things - manages federal real estate. He's the first person to stand trial in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins me know to discuss the verdict. Ari, what did Safavian do?

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

Well, he went on a golf trip with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff to Scotland in 2002. And along with Abramoff, Republican Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio was on that trip. Political consultant Ralph Reed was on the trip, and Abramoff bankrolled the whole thing. There was a private jet, a luxury hotel, and four days golfing at St. Andrews Golf Course.

WERTHEIMER: Presumably, going on a trip to Scotland is not necessarily a crime, right?

SHAPIRO: No. The problem is Safavian was also working on two business deals with Jack Abramoff at the time. Abramoff was trying to get a building in Washington turned into a five-star hotel, and he was trying to get a deal for a school that he was helping to build. And while going on a trip to Scotland is not a crime, lying about the trip to Scotland is a crime, and lying about doing business with lobbyists when you say you're not and in fact you are - that's a crime. And that's what Safavian was convicted of today. Safavian lied about the deals and the trip to investigators, and he also lied to investigators saying he'd paid his way for the trip.

WERTHEIMER: He actually produced a check in court, as I understand it.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, he produced a check for just over $3,000 made out to Jack Abramoff, but that pales in comparison to the actual cost of the trip. It cost more than $14,000 per person. A private jet: $92,000. Hotel in Scotland: $400 a night. You know, it starts to sound like one of those credit card ads. Getting the General Services Administration to do your bidding: priceless.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Well, but this is sort of just the beginning, isn't it? I mean, this is part of a much larger scandal, or array of scandals?

SHAPIRO: Yes, and it seems to just keep growing. There have been four people who have already pleaded guilty in connection with this scandal. That includes the guy at the center of the whole thing, Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist himself. In Safavian's trial, a lot of the testimony centered on Congressman Ney of Ohio. Ney was on this golfing trip, and his former chief of staff - who's one of the people who's pleaded guilty in this case - was a star witness at the Safavian trial. Ney has not been charged with any crimes, but the testimony at the trial did not make it sound good for him.

WERTHEIMER: So what happens next, do you think?

SHAPIRO: Well, the investigation is continuing. The net is widening now that we have the guilty verdict in Safavian's trial and the four guilty pleas with the other folks. The investigators have a whole cache of people who they can turn to for testimony that could really harm other people who have not yet been charged and who may yet still be caught in this investigation.

WERTHEIMER: And Mr. Safavian, what happens to him?

SHAPIRO: Well, he'll be sentenced at some point in the future. We don't yet have a date for the sentencing. And the harshness of the sentence he receives may in large part be determined by how helpful he is to investigators going forward in this.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Ari Shapiro.

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