Another Snared in Abramoff Scandal
A pre-trial motion filed by federal prosecutors in the case of indicted former Bush Administration official David Safavian contends that his share of the costs in a trip to play golf in Scotland and England arranged by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff should have been nearly five times more than what he paid.
Perhaps more significantly, however, it also provides the first formal evidence that powerful Ohio Republican Bob Ney -- then chairman of the House Administration Committee -- provided false figures for the cost of his own trip to Scotland. Ney has been under fire for his role in allegedly helping Abramoff aid his clients in violation of House ethics rules and possibly federal laws.
Ney was referenced as "Congressman #1" in a plea agreement Abramoff made in January, in which he admitted to bribing members of Congress and their staffs.
David Safavian, chief of staff of the United States General Services Administration (GSA) at the time, paid Abramoff $3,100 for a trip that prosecutors say "was in excess of $130,000." According to The Washington Post, tax records show that a non-profit owned by Abramoff, the Capital Athletic Foundation, doled out $150,225 for the trip.
A footnote contained in the government's motion for pretrial determination of certain evidence -- which includes hundreds of emails between Safavian and Abramoff, which prosecutors allege prove a business relationship between the two -- notes that "Mr. Safavian's pro rated cost [for the trip] would have been approximately $15,000."
Safavian's attorney Barbara Van Gelder provided us a copy of Safavian's response [PDF]. In it, Van Gelder asserts that Safavian has never said he paid an equal share and was in the dark about the total cost of the trip. Moreover, she argues that the government should not be able to present "evidence of offenses not charged in the indictment."
Ney, however, was obliged under Congressional rules to provide a "good faith" estimate of his share of the trip's actual cost. He has also come under fire for other elements of the trip.
Ney misrepresented trip's purpose
In addition to likely misreporting its true cost, Ney also listed the sponsor of the trip as the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative thinktank. It later emerged that the trip was paid for by Abramoff's Capital Athletic Foundation. Members of Congress are prohibited from taking trips paid for by lobbyists.
Ney also appears to have lied about the purpose of the trip. "In April, 2002, I was approached by Mr. Abramoff, who I believed to be a respected member of the community, and asked to go on a trip to Scotland which Mr. Abramoff said would help support a charitable organization, that he founded, through meetings he organized with Scottish Parliament officials," Ney said in a statement last November.
In his financial disclosure report to Congress, Ney listed "speech to Scottish Parliamentarians" as a purpose of the trip. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff later revealed that there was no record of Ney's speech and that the Scottish parliament was away on recess during the time of the junket.
On September 9, 2002, a month after returning from the trip, Ney filed a form with the Clerk of the House of the Representatives which indicated that his share of the trip was $3200. He reported $1,500 for travel, $1,200 for lodging and $500 for meal expenses.
According to the prosecutors' estimate, Ney likely should have reported the trip at $15,000. Ney's office did not respond to a call placed for comment Friday.
Ney has said he was misled by Abramoff about who paid for the trip. "I, like these Indian tribes and other Members of Congress, was duped by Jack Abramoff," Ney said in 2004. "I am absolutely outraged by the dishonest and duplicitous words and actions of Jack Abramoff. As the testimony at [Congressional] Committee hearings has revealed, Jack Abramoff repeatedly lied to advance his own financial interests. I too was misled and I regret that I put faith in the representations that he made to me."
Ney "had a great time"
This, however, also seems to be false.
According to an email written by Abramoff and released during investigation of the lobbyist's activities, Ney had a "great time [and was] very grateful" for the Scotland outing.
"BN had a great time and is very grateful but is not going to mention the trip to Scotland for obvious reasons," Abramoff wrote. "He said he'll show his thanks in other ways, which is what we want."
"We can discuss on the phone," Abramoff added.
An itinerary included in one of the emails Abramoff sent to Safavian gives some clues to what drove up the cost of what the prosecutors refer to as an "expensive trip."
On Aug. 3, 2002, a private Gulfstream jet transported Abramoff, Safavian, Ney, and seven others, including former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, from Baltimore on a 6-to-7 hour flight with one fuel stop to Edinburgh, Scotland. Golf and dinners were part of the "package."
"I am in the process of finding a driver for you in London," Abramoff wrote Safavian.
Ney has not been charged with any crime
The government's pre-trial motion alleges that Safavian "agreed and conspired" with Abramoff to provide him with sensitive and confidential information in order to assist Abramoff in his attempt to procure government properties for his own purposes. The criminal complaint, filed by the FBI last September, asserted that Safavian obstructed the federal investigation into Abramoff's dealings and concealed his role in helping Abramoff examine federally controlled property for potential purchase.
Ney has also faced heat for entering comments into the Congressional record which attacked an Abramoff rival in connection with a riverboat gambling fleet the lobbyist later purchased.
Ney has not been charged with any crime, and no ethics complaint has been filed against him in the House. The Ohio Republican says he welcomes any Ethics Committee inquiry, which he believes will clear his name.
Safavian's lawyer says she believes her client will ultimately be cleared, citing numerous discrepancies in the government's case. She notes that the prosecutors maintained in a filing that Abramoff was a lobbyist who did all his lobbying on Capitol Hill and had no business before the agency where Safavian worked.
"I think my client is innocent and that after a full and fair presentation of the relevant evidence he should be acquitted of all charges," Van Gelder said.