Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Abramoff aide kept Shelley's involvement secret

Former lobbyist testifies against official

By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - A former congressional aide and lobbyist described Tuesday how he obtained advice, insider information and help from Bush administration procurement chief David Safavian to advance two projects being promoted by Republican influence peddler Jack Abramoff.

The aide, Neil Volz, who was a partner of Abramoff's at the time, also outlined how they received assistance from several Republican congressmen including, Rep. Bob Ney (news, bio, voting record), R-Ohio, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (news, bio, voting record), R-W.Va., Rep. Don Young (news, bio, voting record), R-Alaska, and Rep. Steven LaTourette (news, bio, voting record), R-Ohio.

Volz is the government's star witness in the trial of Safavian on charges of lying to investigators about his assistance to Abramoff while he was chief of staff to the administrator of the General Services Administration, the agency that oversees property owned by the federal government.

Safavian, who has denied any impropriety in his relations with ex-partner Abramoff, later became the federal government's top procurement official at the Office of Management and Budget before he was indicted.

Volz added flesh and blood details to a series of e-mails the government had introduced earlier showing contact between Abramoff's team and Safavian in the summer of 2002, before several of those involved, including Safavian and Ney, took an expensive weeklong golfing trip to Scotland that Abramoff organized.

Volz testified that the Abramoff team referred to Safavian as a "champion" because he could get inside information on policy developments that was not otherwise available to lobbyists.

He described how Safavian advised Abramoff and his partners to get information on the best way to secretly attach a rider to a bill nearing passage in Congress that would order the GSA to sell the so-called White Oak property in Silver Spring, Md., to a school that Abramoff had established.

Volz also described how Safavian gave advice on how to obtain the letters from key congressmen to the GSA to alter a proposal to redevelop the Old Post Office here in a way that would give one of Abramoff's clients, the Chitimancha Indian tribe, an advantage over other bidders. Abramoff and the tribe wanted to develop the property as a luxury hotel, which would be near restaurants that Abramoff owned on Pennsylvania Ave.

Describing help they requested from Capito's office on the White Oak project, Volz said they wanted to keep her role secret.

"She was up for re-election and this potentially could have put her in harm's way on the campaign trail ... because this project doesn't have anything to do with her district," Volz explained.

Ney is under criminal investigation in the Abramoff probe. Ralph Reed, who is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in Georgia, did some work for the lobbyist.


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