David Safavian, who until Friday headed the "obscure but extremely important" federal procurement office in the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), was arrested yesterday, accused by federal agents of "lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff‘s dealings with the federal government." In his position at the OMB, Safavian set purchasing policy for the entire government, and "had recently been working on developing contracting policies for the multibillion-dollar relief effort after Hurricane Katrina." His arrest — the "first criminal complaint filed against a government official" in the ongoing Abramoff probe — exposes a thicket of corruption involving Abramoff, leaders of the right-wing movement like Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, and public officials at the very highest levels of government, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).
The complaint filed by the FBI accuses Safavian of making "repeated false statements to government officials and investigators" about a golf trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002, when Safavian was chief of staff at the Bush administration’s General Services Administration. In that position, "ethics rules flatly prohibited the receipt of a gift from any person seeking an official action by the agency," and before the golf trip, Safavian assured GSA ethics officers in writing that Abramoff "has no business before GSA." In truth, Safavian was already actively assisting Abramoff "acquire control of two federally managed properties in the Washington area;" a 40-acre plot that became the campus for a Hebrew school Abramoff founded, and office space that Abramoff was seeking to lease for his Indian tribal clients. Indeed, on the very same day Safavian sent the letter to the GSA ethics office, "he sent an e-mail to Abramoff from his home computer, advising him how to ‘lay out a case for this lease.’" The day before he departed to Scotland, Safavian "arranged a meeting for Abramoff’s wife and business partner with officials at GSA" to tour of one of the properties — a tour that Abramoff suggested after being shown a map of the space in Safavian’s office. And in an email to a colleague, Abramoff himself explained why he’d invited Safavian on the golfing trip: "Total business angle. He is new (chief of staff) of GSA."