Email from arrested White House official suggests powerful congressman lied about trip
WASHINGTON -- News of David Safavian's arrest Monday ricocheted through the Washington political scene like a gunshot.
Safavian, 38, who oversaw $300 billion in federal procurement for President George W. Bush, quit Friday after an FBI operation alleged he obstructed an investigation and tried to finagle a government deal for a friend. He was appointed in 2004.
Yet what is most significant about Safavian's case isn't Safavian himself. It’s the fact that he was arrested—and that emails he sent to conservative superlobbyist Jack Abramoff indicated that those on the trip knew that a trip to Scotland in 2002 was being paid for by the lobbyist.
An email sent by Safavian appears to indicate that the powerful Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) lied when he said he was "duped" by Abramoff and lied again on financial disclosure forms when he said that a nonprofit had paid for the trip, RAW STORY has found.
"I (along with [two] members of Congress and a few Congressional staff) have been invited by a friend and former colleague on a trip to Scotland to play golf for four days," Safavian wrote in an email to his government employer, seeking permission to go on the trip.
"The host of the trip is chartering a private jet to take the eight of us from BWI to Scottland [sic] and back. He is paying the cost of the aircraft regardless whether I go or not. In fact, none of the other guest [sic] will be paying a proportional share of the aircraft costs."
"The host is a lawyer and a lobbyist… he does all his work on Capitol Hill."
Nowhere in Safavian's email does he reference the National Center, which those involved said had paid for the trip. The email states that Abramoff personally extended invitations.
Ney, however, made up another patron.
His filings assert that the six-day $3,200 junket from Washington, to Scotland, and then on to London, was paid for by the Center. The visit was described on travel forms as “Speech to Scottish parliamentarian; attend Edinburgh Military tattoo; visit British Parliament.”
His office told the New York Times that Abramoff had assured him the Center had footed the bill. He did not return a RAW STORY call seeking comment.
Amy Ridenour, the Center's director, told a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in June that she knew nothing about the trip.
“The second golf trip is something on which I will be able to provide no information other than the fact that we don't know anything about it,” Ridenour said.
Ridenour’s comments further suggest Ney knowingly falsified the sponsor of the trip on financial disclosure forms.
After the trip, Abramoff sent an e-mail to a senior tribal official of the Texas Tigua tribe, which had been asked to foot half the bill. He said Ney “had a great time and is very grateful but is not going to mention the trip to Scotland for obvious reasons. He said he'll show his thanks in other ways, which is what we want."
The Ohio congressman told the Times that Abramoff was lying.
Abramoff directed the tribe to contribute $32,000 to Ney in 2002, just days after Ney took steps to sponsor legislation sought by the tribe. The lobbyist hired Ney’s chief of staff Neil Volz earlier that year.
Volz, along with two of the congressman’s current aides, took Abramoff’s chartered jet on the same trip. They were joined by Christian Coalition wunderkind Ralph Reed and Ney contributor Adam Kidan.
Kidan bought the Florida-based gambling cruise line Suncruz, in 2000, after Ney inserted statements critical of the line’s previous owner into the congressional record. The previous owner was later killed in a gangland-style murder while driving through a quiet Fort Lauderdale street in his BMW.
The case remains unsolved.
When the Tigua delegation met with Ney shortly after the Scotland trip, the Tigua's leader told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the congressman said, "I want to thank you — I had a great time. You all were so generous."
Originally published on Tuesday September 20, 2005.