Abramoff’s White House buddy offered help

The Bush administration’s top procurement official offered his assistance to now-disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff as his lobbying empire began to crumble, according to e-mails released Wednesday by the White House.

“Let me know if there is anything I can do to help with damage control,” David Safavian, who is now under indictment, messaged Abramoff on Feb. 22, 2004.

At the time, Safavian was working at the White House Office of Management and Budget. He later became administrator of federal procurement policy at OMB.

That morning, The Washington Post revealed how four of Abramoff’s Indian tribal clients had paid $45 million, most of it to Abramoff partner Michael Scanlon.

Since then, both Abramoff and Scanlon have pleaded guilty in an influence peddling probe that encompasses Capitol Hill, the Interior Department and the Safavian case.

Safavian faces trial next month for allegedly making false statements and obstructing investigations into his dealings with Abramoff when Safavian was chief of staff to the head of the General Services Administration.

Safavian left the GSA post to take a job at the White House in January 2004. His e-mail to Abramoff a month later about “damage control” was among dozens of e-mails released Wednesday by OMB.

Safavian’s lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, said the e-mails show “what we have always said, that these are two friends” who have known each other for more than a decade.

A few days before Abramoff’s operations were exposed by The Post, Safavian expressed a willingness to put an Abramoff lobbying partner on a government acquisition advisory panel.

But the partner had left Abramoff’s lobbying firm, so “I assume that means you have no interest in seeing him named to the panel. Correct?” Safavian asked.

“No, not at all,” Abramoff replied. “He has left to give me more flexibility and make sure he has more earning potential. He is still absolutely part of our family. Please put him on if convenient and he wants to do it. Thanks so much David.”

Within weeks, Abramoff was ousted by his firm.

The day after he was ousted, Safavian wrote his friend an e-mail asking, “Are you OK? I figured you would be besieged with phone calls. So I thought an e-mail would be best. Just wanted to let you know that you’re in our thoughts. Let me know if there is ANYTHING I can do.”

In another e-mail to Abramoff after his lobbying practices had come under investigation, Safavian explained that he would have to turn down a last-minute invitation from the lobbyist for lunch, noting that Abramoff had rejected an earlier offer for the two to get together.

“When you spurned my invite, I called one of the industry sycophants and offered him an opportunity to suck up,” Safavian wrote.

Late in 2004, Safavian gave Abramoff a heads-up that a provision buried in a lengthy piece of legislation gave the GSA “enormous latitude” in disposing of government property. The provision was of interest to Abramoff because he had been trying to acquire land outside Washington for a private school he had founded.

© 2006 The Associated Press