Restoring honor and integrity, the Bush administration way

The president's chief procurement officer is charged with lying to investigators and obstructing an investigation into the dealings of Jack Abramoff.

Published September 20, 2005 4:13PM (EDT)

When George W. Bush was running for the presidency in 2000, he promised again and again to restore "honesty and integrity" to the White House. We're pretty sure that meant: "I won't get a blow job in the Oval Office." But just in case Bush really thought "honesty and integrity" meant something broader than that, today might be a good day for him to learn a little more about a man named David Safavian.

Safavian is the president's top procurement officer -- or at least he was until he resigned abruptly last week. Yesterday, at his home in Alexandria, Va., Safavian was arrested on charges of making false statements to government officials and attempting to obstruct an investigation into the dealings of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

We'll be waiting for the president's supporters to explain how charges brought by Bush's Justice Department are part of a partisan attack. Or how Safavian wasn't working for Bush at the time of his arrest. Or how he really wasn't a significant player in the Bush administration. In the meantime, here are the facts.

Safavian may not be Karl Rove, but he's not exactly a minor underling, either. The 38-year-old lawyer is a well-connected Washington Republican. He served as an aide to Republican Reps. Chris Cannon and William Schuette, worked with Abramoff at Preston Gates & Elllis and helped start a consulting firm with Grover Norquist before becoming the chief procurement officer for the White House Office of Management and Budget. Before Safavian resigned from that post -- coincidentally, we're sure, on the day the criminal complaint against him was signed -- he was working on contracting policies to be used in the Katrina recovery efforts. Safavian's wife is chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Government Reform Committee.

According to the complaint filed in federal court, Safavian practiced an unusual brand of government reform while working as chief of staff at the General Services Administration. While in that job, the complaint says, Safavian tried to help Abramoff buy the Old Post Office Building in Washington and part of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland at the same time he was looking forward to an all-expenses-paid golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff. The complaint says that Safavian lied about his efforts to both GSA ethics investigators and the FBI: When asked about the trip, Safavian reportedly told both GSA investigators and FBI agents that Abramoff had no business with the GSA at the time.

As the New York Times notes, the charges against Safavian were filed by way of a prosecutor's complaint rather than a grand jury indictment. The Times says that might mean prosecutors were moving quickly because they were afraid Safavian was a flight risk. But it could also mean something else. Federal prosecutors frequently use complaints rather than grand jury indictments when they're trying to cut a deal with a defendant in exchange for his testimony against someone else. Safavian is a big fish himself, but there are larger species still swimming in his pond.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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