June 20, 2006
Safavian convicted

The first trial connected to the Jack Abramoff scandals has ended with a conviction.

Former White House official David Safavian was convicted of hiding his aid to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and obstructing an inquiry into their trip to Scotland, in the first trial stemming from an influence-peddling probe.

A federal jury in Washington today found Safavian, 38, guilty of three counts of making false statements and one count of obstructing justice. He was acquitted of another obstruction charge. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Safavian plans to appeal.

The verdict is a victory for the Justice Department's strategy of relying on e-mail messages between Abramoff and Safavian to prove guilt. Without calling Abramoff to the witness stand, prosecutors Peter Zeidenberg and Nathaniel Edmonds painted Safavian as a public servant led astray by lavish gifts.

"The e-mails certainly played a very large, maybe more important, role than they should have in this case,'' Safavian's attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, told reporters outside the federal courthouse after the verdict. "Mr. Abramoff loomed large, and his absence loomed larger than his presence.''


"Abramoff is at the heart of this thing,'' said Greg Wallance, a former federal prosecutor and now a lawyer at the New York firm Kaye Scholer. Safavian "is one of the spokes,'' he said prior to the verdict.

Where might those spokes lead?

The Safavian case stems from an August 2002 trip Abramoff arranged for a group to visit Scotland's famed St. Andrews golf course. Abramoff added on three nights in London, where guests stayed in $500-a-night rooms at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Abramoff chartered a private jet at a cost of more than $91,000 for the nine-person outing. Besides Abramoff, his son, two fellow lobbyists and Safavian, the group included Christian activist Ralph Reed, Ohio Republican Representative Bob Ney and two Ney aides, Will Heaton and Paul Vinovich.

Ralph Reed and Bob Ney. Couldn't happen to a finer pair. Enjoy reading the papers today, fellas.

Safavian's attorney is upset about an aspect of this case, which I don't quite understand.

Van Gelder had fought the introduction of hundreds of e- mails into evidence, arguing that Abramoff should appear on the witness stand to show whether they were valid. The decision by U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman to allow the e-mails into evidence without any testimony by Abramoff will play a role in the fight to overturn the verdict, she said.

Why is this even an issue? You don't need Jack Abramoff to establish that emails were sent from his account to David Safavian. Is Van Gelder saying that unless Abramoff testifies that he himself really did write those emails, we can't be sure that he did? Yes, it's possible someone could hijack his account, but c'mon. And did Safavian testify that he didn't receive these emails, or that they couldn't have come from Abramoff? If not, why not? I'm confused.

At the time, Safavian served as chief of staff at the U.S. General Services Administration, which oversees government land. Before the trip, he sent an e-mail to a GSA ethics official asking how he should treat the offer from Abramoff of a free ride on the jet. He told the ethics official that Abramoff "has no business before GSA.''

Prosecutors said that statement was untrue because Safavian and Abramoff had discussed how to acquire rights to GSA properties in a series of e-mails shown to the jury. Safavian said his statement was true because Abramoff, who worked for Greenberg Traurig LLP, didn't have any GSA contracts or bids and wasn't likely to have any.

"It's the e-mail that has given the Justice Department its cases,'' Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor, said before the verdict. "E-mail really is around forever.''

Yes, it is. Ask Ollie North, who was tripped up in part by backup tapes of the ancient mainframe system PROFs. I'll bet those tapes still exist somewhere, too.

I still don't understand why Van Gelder insisted that Abramoff had to testify about the emails. I just don't see the relevance. Any lawyers want to address this?

Elsewhere, TPMuckrakers Paul Kiel and Justin Rood report on the trial, while the Hotline Blog gives us this interesting side effect:

A small marvel of the enormous media attention played to the Abramoff/Cunningham corruption scandals is the degree to which local newspapers -- especially those serving communities represented by members of Congress on district-flattering committees -- are strengthening their investigative coverage and have adopted a come-hell-or-high-water fearlessness about challenging pillars of their community.

The latest example: The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California.

It joins the San Bernadino Sun in creating a special section of its website to deal with Reps. Ken Calvert and Jerry Lewis.

All to the good, if you ask me. If only some of the bigger papers would show such initiative.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 20, 2006 to Scandalized! | TrackBack
Why is this even an issue? You don't need Jack Abramoff to establish that emails were sent from his account to David Safavian. Is Van Gelder saying that unless Abramoff testifies that he himself really did write those emails, we can't be sure that he did? Yes, it's possible someone could hijack his account, but c'mon. And did Safavian testify that he didn't receive these emails, or that they couldn't have come from Abramoff? If not, why not? I'm confused.

Rules of evidence. In both civil and criminal cases, it's not enough to just hold up a document and say it's authentic. It has to be the original document bearing original signatures, or it has to be a certified copy of a government document, AND you have to have a living breathing witness identify it and swear under oath it is genuine, either in live testimony or by affidavit. Affidavits are commonly used in civil cases; but in criminal cases, it's not uncommon for defendants to insist on live testimony to prove up the document. It sounds like Safavian's attorney insisted and got overruled by the judge.

And only genuine or original evidence is admissible. The standards are a little more strict in criminal cases.

E-mail is a new quirk, and there are new evidence rules that address e-mail specifically, but I'm not familiar with them. One hopes the judge's letting them into evidence in the Safavian case will not later be found to be reversible error.

It's not clear from your blog (and I haven't read any of the stories at the links) whether Safavian testified they were all e-mails he received. Surely he did. I don't know if that's enough under the new rules, though. If Safavian didn't testify he received them, and if Abramoff didn't testify he sent them, then, that might be problematic ... depends on how strong the rest of the case is.

Posted by: Julie Keller on June 20, 2006 2:51 PM

P.S. I'm not a lawyer, I just work for them.

Posted by: Julie Keller on June 20, 2006 2:52 PM

Julie - Thanks for the feedback. I guess I'm coming at this from the viewpoint of a (onetime) email admin. If I can prove conclusively that a given email was sent from a particular account and a particular workstation at a particular time, isn't that enough? That's my view.

It does sound like this may be some new ground here, and if so then I too hope it will not be grounds for tossing the conviction. We'll see.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on June 20, 2006 3:04 PM

There's the rub: "If I can prove..."


The prosecutor can't just show the e-mail to the jury and say, this is real thing.

A warm, breathing, living human has to identify the e-mail, and then explain, under Q & A from the lawyer trying to get the evidence admitted, how that message moved conclusively from a specific account thru a specific server to the destination (to use your example). Or testify, Yes, I typed that message. Or testify, Yes, I received that message.

To be considered as evidence proving someone's guilt or innocence, that evidence has to be connected to the story being presented to the jury by warm, living, breathing witnesses who can testify under oath that they saw it or they did it or they wrote it. Either live on the stand at the trial or through an affidavit (used more often in civil cases).

Again, I'm not a lawyer and I do not know much about the new rules regarding
"electronic evidence." This is just a very general explanation of how evidence gets admitted.

Posted by: Julie Keller on June 20, 2006 3:31 PM

I see your point, but what I could do is get a living, breather email administrator to take the stand and say "Our server logs show that an email was sent from Jack Abramoff to David Safavian at 2:15 PM EST on Monday, December 3. This is a printout of that email - you can see from the header information that it matches what out server logs show." Or something like that.

That's what I mean when I say Abramoff himself isn't strictly necessary. I do admit that this leaves open the possibility of someone else sending the email, but when we're talking about hundreds of emails, that would seem an extreme improbability.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on June 20, 2006 3:43 PM

Julie is right, but it goes a little deeper than this. Direct testimony is always preferred because it gives the jury a chance to observe the "countenance & demeanor" of the witness and, perhaps, determine if he (or she) is lying. Affidavits might be accepted, but not usually if the witness is available to testify.

The emails might have been faked or altered - who else but Abramoff would know?

Posted by: Brenda Helverson on June 20, 2006 6:55 PM


Well, the person who has received the most legal input on the topic of emails has got to be Bush who, tellingly, never writes email.


Also, where do those spokes lead? With these specific characters involved, my guess is they lead to elections.

Abramoff's client Diebold
Ohio's Rep. Ney's HAVA
Ralph Reed's (Apocalyptic?) Fundamentalists

would be my guess.



Was the 2004 Election Stolen?

Republicans prevented more than 350,000 voters in Ohio from casting ballots or having their votes counted -- enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.


…But despite the media blackout, indications continued to emerge that something deeply troubling had taken place in 2004. Nearly half of the 6 million American voters living abroad(3) never received their ballots -- or received them too late to vote(4) -- after the Pentagon unaccountably shut down a state-of-the-art Web site used to file overseas registrations.(5) A consulting firm called Sproul & Associates, which was hired by the Republican National Committee to register voters in six battleground states,(6) was discovered shredding Democratic registrations.(7) In New Mexico, which was decided by 5,988 votes,(8) malfunctioning machines mysteriously failed to properly register a presidential vote on more than 20,000 ballots.(9) Nationwide, according to the federal commission charged with implementing election reforms, as many as 1 million ballots were spoiled by faulty voting equipment -- roughly one for every 100 cast.(10)

The reports were especially disturbing in Ohio, the critical battleground state that clinched Bush's victory in the electoral college. Officials there purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency. A precinct in an evangelical church in Miami County recorded an impossibly high turnout of ninety-eight percent, while a polling place in inner-city Cleveland recorded an equally impossible turnout of only seven percent. In Warren County, GOP election officials even invented a nonexistent terrorist threat to bar the media from monitoring the official vote count.(11)


But what is most anomalous about the irregularities in 2004 was their decidedly partisan bent: Almost without exception they hurt John Kerry and benefited George Bush. After carefully examining the evidence, I've become convinced that the president's party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004. Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004(12) -- more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes.(13) (See Ohio's Missing Votes) In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots.(14) And that doesn?t even take into account the troubling evidence of outright fraud, which indicates that upwards of 80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush. That alone is a swing of more than 160,000 votes -- enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.(15)


go to The Huffington Post at
which has links within the article.

Sunday, June 18, 2006 "Some Might Call It Treason: An Open Letter to Salon"

Mark Crispin Miller

Two weeks ago, Rolling Stone came out with "Did Bush Steal the 2004 Election?" -- a masterful investigative piece by Robert Kennedy, Jr., arguing that Bush & Co. stole their "re-election" in Ohio, and pointing out exactly how they did it. Primarily because of Kennedy's good reputation, and the mainstream credibility of Rolling Stone, the article has finally opened many eyes that had been tightly shut to the grave state of American democracy.



So, great news about Texas candidate for AG, Van Os, the NAACP and the Texas Civil Rgihts Project filing a lawsuit to seek an injuction to force the use of paper ballots in Texas by this November election.

Oh, happy days. With this we can put evidence back into elections and start to correct the damage done by voluntary pollution laws causing global warming and therefore bigger and more hurricanes which everyone is stressing about now.


Posted by: Prove Our Democracy with Paper Ballots on June 21, 2006 12:58 PM