WASHINGTON – The David Safavian trial jury headed into its second day of deliberations Thursday on whether the former Bush administration executive covered up assistance he gave Republican influence-peddler Jack Abramoff.
The jury of 10 women and two men is weighing charges that while Safavian was the General Services Administration's chief of staff in 2002, he obstructed justice and made false statements. He is accused of concealing from GSA ethics officials, the GSA inspector general and Senate investigators how he helped the convicted lobbyist try to buy, lease or redevelop two government properties.
In the first trial to arise from the Abramoff scandal, the jury deliberated about five hours Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman on Wednesday morning dismissed one juror, seated the only remaining alternate juror, a woman, and told the revised jury to "start all over again." Friedman doubted starting over would present any problem because the jurors had not discussed the case in substantive detail in the two hours they spent Tuesday before the problem with the juror arose.
Friedman said the juror he dismissed had refused to follow instructions, had done independent research and had talked to people she should not have about the case.
Two jurors told the judge Tuesday they heard the offending juror say she had discussed the costs of a golf trip to Scotland with her father. One issue raised in trial testimony has been whether Safavian paid his full share of expenses for an August 2002 golf trip arranged by Abramoff to the famed St. Andrews course in Scotland.
Safavian, a former chief federal procurement officer in the Bush White House, acknowledged on the witness stand that Abramoff e-mailed him that he was working on trying to buy or lease 40 acres of the GSA's White Oak property in Maryland for a school Abramoff set up. Safavian also acknowledged he knew Abramoff "was putting together a team in order to bid" on the redevelopment of the Old Post Office a few blocks from the White House.
But he said he didn't tell GSA officials and the Senate about his advice to Abramoff because the GSA had not decided in 2002 what to do with the properties so he didn't consider that Abramoff's inquiries amounted to doing or seeking business with the agency.
GSA and Senate investigators have testified that they would have wanted to know about Safavian's advice to Abramoff. GSA officials testified that knowledge could have altered decisions to permit the trip and to close an investigation of it.
Abramoff has pleaded guilty to crimes here and in Miami.