WASHINGTON – A prosecutor said Monday that a Bush administration official chose the interests of lobbyist Jack Abramoff over those of the public and should be convicted of covering up what he had done.
David Safavian, the former chief of staff at the General Services Administration, "was trying to hide a secret, inappropriate and unethical relationship with Mr. Abramoff," prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds told a federal jury in final arguments.
Edmonds said that every public official has "moments of truth" in which he can act ethically or unethically and that Safavian failed the test by lying to the GSA's ethics officer, the agency's office of inspector general and a Senate committee.
Safavian supplied the lobbyist information about government land in Maryland and the Old Post Office, a downtown Washington landmark, around the time he accepted a weeklong golfing excursion from Abramoff to Scotland and London.
Safavian's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, said her client was an honest public servant who told investigators the truth and had no motive to lie.
In the first trial in the Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, Safavian is accused of five counts of lying to investigators and obstructing probes by the IG and the Senate panel chaired by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Earlier, the judge dismissed a portion of one count of the indictment. The language said Safavian lied by telling a GSA ethics officer Abramoff had no business with the GSA and was not seeking to do business with the agency. There was no evidence during the trial that Safavian ever made such statements to the GSA, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said.
The judge left intact the remainder of the count that Safavian concealed his assistance to Abramoff.
According to testimony, Abramoff used his typically aggressive tactics on an old friend, Safavian, who now faces a lengthy prison term if convicted of covering up his assistance to the influence peddler.
The prosecution and defense were to make final arguments to the jury Monday afternoon.
During the trial, Safavian acknowledged giving advice and some "nonpublic information" to Abramoff and admitted to some lapses of judgment and memory, while insisting he hadn't intentionally misled GSA and Senate investigators.
Safavian, once the chief of staff at the General Services Administration, said he told an FBI agent he had advised Abramoff on two GSA properties in the fall of 2002, rather than — as actually happened — in the weeks before he took a luxury-filled golf trip to Scotland that Abramoff arranged in August 2002.
"I was just mistaken about the time frame," Safavian testified last week.
If Safavian is acquitted, the prosecution's decision not to put Abramoff on the witness stand would turn out to have been a mistake.
A conviction would follow a trial in which the star witness was not a person, but rather hundreds of e-mails in which Abramoff detailed what he wanted and Safavian responded.