Former White House Official Convicted in Abramoff Case

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A jury finds former Bush administration official David Safavian guilty of covering up his dealings with Republican influence-peddler Jack Abramoff. Peter Overby, NPR's Washington correspondent, discusses the verdict.


Another domino dropped today in the Jack Abramoff scandal. A jury here in Washington found former White House staffer David Safavian guilty on four counts of lying and obstruction. This was the first trial to come out of the Justice Department's investigation into Washington insiders' connections to the now controversial and convicted, self-confessed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

For more on this, we turn to NPR's Peter Overby, who's been following the story. He's with us here in Studio 3A. Nice to talk to you again, Peter.

PETER OVERBY reporting:

Thank you.

CONAN: Should we be surprised by this verdict?

OVERBY: No, not at all. After David Safavian took the stand last week, he looked like he was expecting a conviction. It, you know, he looked like man who had been at a funeral.

CONAN: Mm hmm. Interestingly, though, his lawyer, in her summation, said, hey, look at the government's case. Where's Jack? Mr. Abramoff didn't testify here.

OVERBY: He didn't, but his e-mails did. That is one of the important elements of this trial, as you look forward in the broader investigation. They didn't need Abramoff on the stand. His e-mails spoke for him, and they didn't have to put him put to cross-examination.

CONAN: As she had to concede. She didn't call him either, so, which she had every right to do. But anyway…

OVERBY: That's true.

CONAN: But in, Mr. Safavian, then working for the General Services Administration, which for those outside of Washington is sort of the government's landlord, they rent all the space…


CONAN: …and he was not actually found guilty of that much criminal activity. He was found guilty about lying about it.

OVERBY: Yeah, he was found guilty of lying about the cost of a trip that, you know, the famous golfing trip to Scotland, where he paid $3,100 for a trip that the government said should have cost him more like $17,000.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

OVERBY: And, at the same time as the trip, Abramoff was trying to do two real estate deals with the GSA, and Safavian - his old friend - was helping him. You know, they were consulting through e-mails. So, Safavian did not link that to the trip.

CONAN: Mm hmm. So he neglected to tell the investigators about that as well, and that was part of the - some other people on that trip, though, pretty interesting. Bob Ney, the congressman, Republican from Ohio, who's widely regarded to be next in line for the investigation. Indeed, another one his staffers, Mr. Voltz, was a prosecution witness.

OVERBY: That's right. Voltz was on the trip. He was working for Abramoff at the time. He had gone from Bob Ney's employ to Jack Abramoff's employ. He was on the golf trip. He testified as a government witness. He's pleaded guilty. And, he testified, he withstood the cross-examination. He seems likely to be the most important witness if they bring charges against Bob Ney.

CONAN: And he's up for reelection, and he denies all charges. Says he's going to be cleared of everything.

OVERBY: Yes. His spokesman said today that this, the Safavian case, has nothing to do with Bob Ney.

CONAN: Yet the first conviction, other people have pleaded guilty to charges. This is an important milestone for the government's investigation.

OVERBY: That's right. It's a really big marker in this case.

CONAN: Peter Overby, an NPR correspondent on power, money, and influence in Washington. He hardly has anything to do, but he joined us today here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for being with us.

OVERBY: You're welcome.

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. You're listening to NPR News.

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