Justice Department to Use E-Mails in Lobbyist Probe of Former GSA Official

Several years worth of e-mails between disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the Bush administration's former top procurement official should be allowed as evidence in a criminal trial, federal prosecutors told a judge Friday.

The recently discovered e-mails in the case against David Safavian range from the mundane, setting up golf outings, to the highly suspicious, supplying internal General Services Administration data on government-owned real estate.

Abramoff wanted to buy one piece of property for a private school the lobbyist had founded and he wanted to lease for his tribal clients a downtown Washington landmark, the Old Post office.

Safavian is accused of falsely telling the GSA's inspector general, a GSA ethics officer and a Senate committee chaired by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that Abramoff was not doing business with GSA in 2002 when the lobbyist and the procurement official went on a weeklong golf outing to Scotland.

Safavian paid $3,100 for the trip. Prosecutors say his share of the trip for nine people, according to the government, was $15,000.

In arguing that the e-mails should be admissible in the upcoming trial which starts next month, prosecutors say Abramoff and Safavian engaged in a conspiracy that defrauded the public from Safavian's honest services as a government official. Safavian is not charged with conspiracy or fraud.

"The government must try the case it brought, not the case it wishes it had brought," said Barbara Van Gelder, Safavian's lawyer.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman replied that the government "can always go back to the grand jury and get a couple of hundred counts" of wire fraud in a revised indictment against Safavian. But Friedman indicated that may not be necessary, that the government's position on the e-mails may well be the correct one.

Justice Department attorney Peter Zeidenberg said the Abramoff-Safavian e-mails surfaced in mid-April, as a result of a computer search into archived e-mails by a private firm. Safavian was indicted last year.

"I feel like this is a law school exam three weeks before trial," said Van Gelder, saying it was unfair to spring so much new evidence on the defense so soon before trial. "I am now defending a case three weeks before trial that was not indicted."

She said "there is no conspiracy."

If the government can get the e-mails declared admissible as evidence for next month's trial, prosecutors might not have to call admitted felon Abramoff as a witness against Safavian. Van Gelder said the government does not want to put Abramoff on the witness stand, where he would be subjected to cross-examination about his criminality.

Safavian is a sideshow to the Abramoff scandal in which the lobbyist spread his favors on Capitol Hill while defrauding Indian tribal clients involved in casino gambling out of tens of millions of dollars.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty in Washington to conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud, and he pleaded guilty in Miami to committing fraud in the purchase of a fleet of gambling boats.