David Safavian

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David Safavian

David Hossein Safavian (born August 4, 1967) is a Republican lawyer and former Chief of Staff in the United States General Services Administration (GSA). He is a figure in the Jack Abramoff lobbying and corruption scandal.

In 2004, he was an employee of the Office of Management and Budget when he was arrested and charged with crimes in connection with the Abramoff corruption scandal. He was convicted on October 27, 2006, and sentenced to 18 months in prison. However, on June 17, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously reversed Safavian's convictions, and ordered a new trial. On December 19, 2008, at his retrial, he was again convicted of perjury.

Career prior to GSA[edit]

An Iranian-American from Grosse Ile, Michigan, Safavian graduated fifth in his class at Detroit College of Law. He also studied at Loyola University Maryland, Georgetown University Law Center, Michigan State University College of Law, and Saint Louis University. In Michigan, he served as an aide to Congressmen Robert William Davis (R-MI) and Bill Schuette (R-MI), and still later he worked for the lobbying firm of Janus-Merritt Strategies.

Safavian was a longtime friend of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In the mid-1990s, the two worked at the Washington-based lobbying firm of Preston Gates & Ellis. There they brought in millions to the firm while working on the Mississippi Choctaw tribal account. The pair were members of a team, reports CNN, “that was lobbying to keep the Northern Mariana Islands [a US territory] free from certain US labor and immigration laws.”

In 1997, Safavian and Grover Norquist founded a lobbying firm, the Merritt Group, which was renamed Janus-Merritt Strategies (and is sometimes referred to as "Janus Merritt" or simply "Janus"). The tenor of the firm was fiercely ideological. "We represent clients who really do have an interest in a smaller federal government," Safavian told Legal Times in a 1997 interview. "We're all very ideologically driven, and have a bias in favor of free markets." He went on: "We're not letting people who offer us money change our principles."

The firm's clients included businesses like BP America, the U.S. division of British Petroleum. There were foreign companies like the Corporacion Venezolana de Cementos and Grupo Financiero Banorte. There were gaming interests, including Indian tribes: the Saginaw Chippewa - a client the firm shared with Jack Abramoff, the Viejas band of Kumeyaay Indians, and the National Indian Gaming Commission.[1] Safavian also registered as a lobbyist for the government of Pakistan, the government of Gabon, and Pascal Lissouba, the former president of the Republic of the Congo.

In 1999, Safavian founded the Internet Consumer Choice Coalition, a nonprofit one purpose of which was to fight a bill authored by Republican Arizona senator Jon Kyl that would have made online gambling a federal crime. Coalition members included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of Concerned Taxpayers, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Interactive Services Association, the Small Business Survival Committee, and the United States Internet Council. Some coalition members—the Interactive Services Association, for one—were also clients of Safavian's. Another, Americans for Tax Reform, was Norquist's activist group.[1] An Oct. 12, 2006 Senate Finance Committee report[2] concludes most of these organizations abused their tax exempt status.

In January 2001, Safavian left Janus-Merritt to become Chief of Staff for Representative Chris Cannon.

Federal positions[edit]

In early 2002, Safavian began looking for a new job. On February 4, 2002, he sent lobbyist Jack Abramoff his resume, receiving a very positive response five days later. In mid-April, Safavian interviewed at Greenberg Traurig, the firm that employed Abramoff. Soon after that he got an offer for a job at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). On April 30, he wrote to Abramoff: "my gut is telling me to take the GSA job before joining up with you and your band of merry men."[3]

On May 16, 2002, GSA Administrator Stephen A. Perry named Safavian as Senior Advisor and Acting Deputy Chief of Staff at the GSA. He took the place of Angela Styles, an advisor known for challenging Congressional pressure to award contracts. "The most serious challenge to Styles came from Rep. Tom Davis (R.-Va.), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee."[4] Two months later, Safavian was named Chief of Staff of the GSA to replace Brian Allan Jackson, who was leaving the agency to pursue an MBA from Harvard Business School.

On November 4, 2003, President George W. Bush announced Safavian's nomination to be the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy, Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President.,[5] where he set purchasing policy for the entire government.[6]

Indictment, trial, conviction, reversal by the court of appeals & sentencing[edit]

David Safavian was indicted October 5, 2005. He was accused of making false statements and obstructing investigations into his dealings with Jack Abramoff while he was chief of staff for the General Services Administration. His trial started May 25, 2006. Guilty verdicts on four of five felony counts of lying and obstruction were returned June 20.[7]

However, all of the convictions were overturned by the Judges Raymond Randolph, Harry Edwards, and Judith Rodgers of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 17, 2008. The three judge panel of the court of appeals found that the Department of Justice had vastly overreached in charging Safavian. Moreover, the appeals court found that the trial court had committed reversible error by allowing the Justice Department to use the equivalent of expert witness testimony, but did not grant Safavian the same latitude. Because Safavian's defense was unfairly limited, the court overturned all four convictions. In doing so, double jeopardy applied to at least one charge and an additional specification. This left only three of the original five charges in which the prosecution could retry Safavian. The unanimous opinion, was written by one George H.W. Bush appointee (Randolph), a Carter appointee (Edwards), and a Clinton appointee (Rogers).[8][9]

Safavian was retried and an October 16, 2009 was sentenced to a year in prison for lying about his association with Jack Abramoff by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman. Judge Friedman deferring his prison reporting date to allow him to be with his wife when she delivers their child.[10]

Personal life[edit]

David Safavian is married and has a school age daughter.

See also[edit]