Closing Arguments to Begin Soon in Lobbying Scandal Trial

After an intense two-day cross-examination of defendant David Safavian, a federal court jury gets an unusual break before hearing closing arguments about whether the former Bush official concealed from investigators his assistance to Republican influence peddler Jack Abramoff.

Prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg got the former chief of staff at the General Services Administration to acknowledge Monday he gave advice and some "nonpublic information" about federal properties to the disgraced lobbyist. Under Zeidenberg's detailed cross-examination, Safavian conceded some lapses of judgment and memory.

Still, Safavian insisted he hadn't intentionally misled GSA and Senate investigators.

Defense attorney Barbara Van Gelder rested after Safavian concluded his testimony on his own behalf.

The next step will be detailed jury instructions on the five-count indictment charging Safavian with obstruction of justice and false statements, followed by both sides' closing arguments.

All that was postponed until next Monday because federal judges in the District of Columbia are holding their annual conference in Pennsylvania the rest of this week.

Safavian acknowledged Monday he told an FBI agent he had advised Abramoff on two GSA properties in the fall of 2002, rather than — as it 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.

With a tone of disbelief, Zeidenberg asked if Safavian had forgotten that Abramoff first asked about one of the properties just eight days after Safavian joined GSA. And had he forgotten two dozen e-mails they exchanged about the properties in July 2002 and forgotten arranging and attending a meeting with Abramoff's representatives and GSA officials the day before he left on the trip, the prosecutor demanded.

Each time, Safavian insisted he had forgotten the dates and was not trying to conceal information from the agent.

Zeidenberg got Safavian to acknowledge he did not know the FBI agent already had copies of the July 2002 e-mails.

In an effort to rebut the government's contention that Safavian should have known that hotels on the trip cost $400 or $500 a night, the defense introduced pictures of 10 U.S. hotels, mostly Marriotts, that Safavian had stayed in as a government official for discounted government rates of $91 through $200 a night.

Zeidenberg got Safavian to acknowledge that none of these hotels were located beside a world-famous golf course like the one in which he stayed at the St. Andrews golf course in Scotland.

Safavian, a former chief federal procurement officer in the Bush White House, is charged with concealing from GSA ethics officials, GSA inspector general investigators and Senate investigators the fact that he aided Abramoff on two GSA properties Abramoff wanted to buy, lease or redevelop.

Safavian acknowledged that Abramoff e-mailed 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 told GSA ethics officials and the Senate that Abramoff was not doing or seeking business with GSA because he believed that to be seeking business someone had to be bidding on a contract and GSA had not decided in 2002 whether to redevelop the post office.

GSA and Senate investigators have testified that they would have wanted to know about the advice. GSA officials testified that knowledge could have altered decisions to permit the trip and to close an investigation of it.