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Big Setback for Federal Abramoff Task Force

POSTED: 11:58 AM ET, 06/17/2008 by The Editors

A federal appeals court today threw out some charges and ordered a new trial for David Safavian, the first Bush administration official convicted in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Safavian, the former chief of staff for the General Services Administration, was convicted of lying to investigators about his relationship with Abramoff and in October 2006 was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He has been free during his appeal.

Safavian was convicted of giving Abramoff inside information about government-owned real estate that the lobbyist wanted to acquire. The trial judge said at the time that Safavian committed "an abuse of the public trust" and added that he found many of Safavian's statements on the witness stand "incredible."

In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that when Safavian asked government ethics officials if he could travel to Scotland for a golf trip with Abramoff, he was not required to disclose that he'd been providing Abramoff with information.

If the government decides to proceed with a new trial, the remaining charges focus on whether Safavian lied to the Senate when he said Abramoff was not doing business with the GSA. Safavian argued that he believed he was being honest, since -- in his opinion -- Abramoff had no contracts with the agency. The court held that the trial judge should have allowed Safavian to call an expert to discuss how government officials view this issue.

Barbara Van Gelder, attorney for Safavian, told The Post's James Grimaldi: "I'm reading the opinion through teary eyes.

"We've argued these issues from the time he was indicted," Van Gelder said. "This has been three horrendous years in exile for David. I hope now the Department of Justice will reconsider whether they will go forward with this case."

By The Editors |  June 17, 2008; 11:58 AM ET Abramoff Scandal
Previous: McClatchy Investigates U.S. Detention System | Next: U.S. Hid Abused Detainees, Congress Finds

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I am reading this decision through outraged eyes. Safavian was the classic definition of a crook, a person who used his government office to enrich himself and his (lobbyist) friends. My vote is for a retrial, hauling in Abramoff and Tony Rudy and the array of others to tell a jury what this guy sold to them and how he did it.

Posted by: ed | June 17, 2008 1:02 PM

Whether it's Barry Bonds, Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, or Roger Clemons, lying to federal investigators should not be a crime absent proof of an underlying criminal violation. You can't have money laudering unless there is an underlying crime committed by the launderer or his associates. The same should apply to lying to federal investigators.

Posted by: hb | June 17, 2008 2:28 PM

Of course, lying to federal investigators is and must be a crime irrespective of any underlying criminal activity that the government may or may not prove. If witnesses are free to lye willy nilly, it will be virtually impossible to conduct an investigation and get to the criminal activity. As the prosecutor in the Plame investigation stated, Scooter Libby' lies to the prosecutors stymied the investigation; and Libby was appropriately convicted of such conduct.

Posted by: jdcolv | June 17, 2008 2:40 PM

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