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Abramoff Scandal
Judge allows more Abramoff e-mails into record


A federal judge said on Tuesday he would review countless e-mail exchanges between Jack Abramoff and a former Bush administration official, messages that include an attempt to exploit tribal clients.

Rather than wait until trial, Judge Paul L. Friedman said he would read the electronic traffic to determine whether the jury will see them. In a short order, he denied a motion to block the government prosecutors from submitting even more e-mails into the record.

The messages detail conversations between Abramoff and David H. Safavian, a former lobbyist who represented tribal gaming interests. They were written when Safavian was chief of staff at the General Services Administration.

The Department of Justice is hoping the e-mails will lead to the conviction of Safavian, who had left the GSA and was working at the White House Office of Management and Budget right before he was indicted on charges that he lied to federal investigators and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee about his dealings with Abramoff.

Safavian faces a May 22 trial in Washington, D.C. Unless a plea deal is reached -- an unlikely development -- his will be the first Abramoff case to go before a jury.

But Safavian's attorney is fighting to keep the messages out of the eyes of potential jurors. She has charged that the Department of Justices is submitting them to the court "to place additional irrelevant and misleading evidence in the media."

Some of the e-mail content has been reported in news outlets. The first batch, filed back in February, provided fresh details about Abramoff's attempt to "use" one of his tribal clients to develop a lucrative piece of property in downtown Washington.

The second and third batches, filed in the last two weeks, shed even more insight into the campaign. They show how Abramoff, with Safavian's help, convinced key members of Congress -- including Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) -- to support the project. Young was specifically targeted because he advocates for more tribal and Alaska Native contracting.

"Guys, this is the letter we need to have issued and signed by Don Young and Steve Latourette [Republican from Ohio]," Abramoff told his associates. "The text below enables a tribe to do the project, so Young should be enthusiastic."

Abramoff then sent the letter to Safavian at his personal AOL address, rather than his official gsa.gov address. In a response, Safavian offers advice on how to deal with the federal contracting process and he suggests two key Democratic lawmakers -- Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada -- might be able to help.

Young and LaTourette, along with a third Republican, did end up pressing GSA to encourage tribal development of the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington. But Safavian's message is the first time Dorgan, the vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Reid have been mentioned as targets in the scheme. Neither is known to have submitted a letter to GSA, however.

The project never went through, largely because no tribe was actively pursuing it. The e-mails show that Abramoff was going to put the project together first and present it to one of his clients later.

"I like this approach," Abramoff said in one message. "I just have to figure out the tribe to use."

Abramoff and Safavian shared tribal clients, including the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, when they worked at the Preston Gates firm together in the mid-1990s. Safavian later formed his own firm, where he represented the National Indian Gaming Association and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.