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Bush official arrested in lobbyist probe

Procurement chief lied, FBI alleges

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's top federal procurement official resigned Friday and was arrested yesterday, accused of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with the federal government. It was the first criminal complaint filed against a government official in the ongoing corruption probe related to Abramoff's activities in Washington.

The complaint, filed by the FBI, alleges that David H. Safavian, 38, a White House procurement official involved until last week in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, made repeated false statements to government officials and investigators about a golf trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002.

It also contends that he concealed his efforts to help Abramoff acquire control of two federally managed properties in the Washington area. Abramoff is the person identified as ''Lobbyist A" in a 13-page affidavit unsealed in court, according to sources knowledgeable about the probe.

Until his resignation on the day the criminal complaint against him was signed, Safavian was the top administrator at the federal procurement office in the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he set purchasing policy for the entire government.

The arrest occurred at his home in Alexandria, Va. A man who answered the phone there yesterday hung up when a reporter asked to speak to Safavian.

Abramoff was indicted by federal prosecutors in Miami last month on unrelated charges of wire fraud and conspiracy. He remains the linchpin of an 18-month probe by a federal task force that includes the Internal Revenue Service, the Interior Department, and the Justice Department's fraud and public integrity units. His lawyer did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Abramoff's allegedly improper dealings with Indian tribes prompted the federal probe. But investigators have found that his documents and e-mail contain a trove of information about his efforts to seek favors from congressmen and senior bureaucrats.

Like Abramoff, Safavian is a Washington veteran. He is a former lobbying partner of antitax crusader Grover Norquist and previously worked with Abramoff at another firm. Both he and Abramoff have represented gambling clients and Indian tribes.

When Safavian asked GSA ethics officers for permission to go on the trip, he assured them in writing that Abramoff ''has no business before GSA," according to the affidavit signed by FBI special agent Jeffrey A. Reising.

Reising alleged, however, that Abramoff had by then already secretly enlisted Safavian in an effort to buy 40 acres of land that GSA managed in Silver Spring, Md., for use as the campus of a Hebrew school Abramoff founded. Safavian also allegedly tried to help Abramoff lease space in an old post office building downtown.

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