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Ex-Bush official denies coverup

Questioned about trip with Abramoff

WASHINGTON -- Former Bush official David Safavian yesterday denied that he ever tried to conceal from government officials the assistance he gave to Republican influence peddler Jack Abramoff about federal properties.

Taking the stand in his own defense in US District Court, the former chief of staff of the General Services Administration also replied ``no, no, no" when his lawyer asked if he had ever given the disgraced lobbyist any inside information on bidding.

Safavian said he did regret forwarding to Abramoff an internal government e-mail describing how some officials were resisting GSA's plans to redevelop the Old Post Office in Washington, a project Abramoff was working on for an Indian tribe client.

As for a trip he took to Scotland and England with Abramoff, Safavian said he thought his $3,100 check to the lobbyist paid all of his costs for the weeklong golfing trip in 2002. He said that was the figure Abramoff said was his share of a trip that prosecutors have said cost more than $130,000 for the nine participants.

Asked by his lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, if the luxuries on the trip didn't alert him that Abramoff might have been estimating low in order to give him a gift, Safavian replied, ``I didn't think so at the time."

Tracking the counts in the indictment, Van Gelder asked if he had ever concealed his dealings with Abramoff on the properties, just before the trip, from GSA ethics officials, GSA inspector general investigators, or the Senate. Safavian said ``no" three separate times.

Safavian testified that he believes it was proper for him to give Abramoff advice and information about the government properties in which the lobbyist was interested. When Van Gelder asked whether Abramoff was lobbying him in a series of e-mails in 2002 about the properties, Safavian said no, ``because I wasn't the authorizing official. . . . There was no action I could have taken to help Mr. Abramoff."

She asked Safavian if it wasn't abusing his position as GSA chief of staff to have career government workers search out information for his friend.

``I still don't think there's anything wrong with that," Safavian replied. ``It's part of GSA's function to provide information to work with the private sector. GSA career officials get these queries all the time."

Safavian resigned as chief federal procurement officer at the White House when he was arrested last fall. He is charged with concealing from GSA and Senate investigators the assistance he provided Abramoff on the two properties in the weeks before he joined Abramoff on the trip abroad.

Abramoff entered guilty pleas this year to fraud, corruption, tax evasion, and conspiracy charges in Washington and Florida.

GSA and Senate investigators have testified that they would have wanted to know about the advice Safavian gave Abramoff. Knowing about the assistance could have altered their decisions to allow him to take the trip and to close a later investigation of it, GSA officials said. Prosecutors say the trip -- with a chartered jet, $500-a-night hotel rooms, $400 rounds of golf, and $100 rounds of drinks -- had a total cost of more than $130,000 for the nine participants.

Safavian paid Abramoff $3,100 when the trip began Aug. 3, 2002. Safavian testified that he twice asked Abramoff during the trip ``if we were square" on his share of the costs and Abramoff said they were.

Safavian told his lawyer he agreed to get some information about the GSA's so-called White Oak property in Maryland that Abramoff wanted to buy or lease for a school he had set up because ``Jack was a friend and he asked a routine question about the agency. So I found out . . . if there was any activity in GSA for disposal of this property."

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