News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Saturday, January 28, 2006

U.S. Says Abramoff Tipped Tyco to GSA Move

By Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 28, 2006; A04

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave his client Tyco International an early warning in 2003 that the government was about to suspend Tyco's federal contracts -- inside information he received from a General Services Administration official now under indictment, federal prosecutors alleged yesterday.

David H. Safavian, who has been charged with obstructing the Abramoff corruption investigation, alerted Abramoff in November 2003 that the GSA was about to suspend the contracts of four Tyco subsidiaries, prosecutors said in court papers. Safavian provided "sensitive and confidential information" about internal GSA deliberations, as well as advice about how to get around the suspension, the prosecutors said.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy and is cooperating with a federal investigation into political corruption. He has been accused of improperly obtaining inside information from contacts in Congress and executive branch agencies.

George Terwilliger, Tyco's attorney, said yesterday that Abramoff's tip was of substantial benefit to Tyco but was unsolicited. Tyco's senior lawyer, Timothy Flanigan, contacted the GSA and "asked for an opportunity to address the suspension issue on the merits," Tyco said in a statement yesterday.

Tyco said it turned the matter over to its law firm, McKenna, Long and Aldridge, which persuaded the agency that the suspension was unwarranted. The GSA had been concerned about the alleged criminal misconduct of former Tyco executives, but the company told the agency that it had brought in new management, Terwilliger said.

GSA spokesman Neil Franz said Tyco's Nov. 10, 2003, notice of suspension was lifted before it was enforced because Tyco "was very responsive in providing the information GSA needed."

Abramoff "was not retained or engaged on this matter" by Tyco and was not paid for it, Terwilliger said. "I have asked and been assured by line-level prosecutors that neither Tyco nor anyone at the company is being investigated or is suspected of any wrongdoing."

Flanigan, a former deputy White House counsel under now-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, withdrew his nomination to be deputy attorney general in part because Tyco had surfaced in the Abramoff investigation. Terwilliger said Flanigan was traveling and unavailable for comment.

Abramoff in May 2003 solicited Tyco as a client on a tax issue, according to documents filed with his plea agreement earlier this month. Prosecutors said Abramoff recommended that the company hire both him and a consulting firm, GrassRoots Interactive, but hid from Tyco that GrassRoots Interactive was his business. In May and June 2003, Tyco paid GrassRoots Interactive about $1.8 million, of which about $1.7 million went to Abramoff and entities he controlled, prosecutors said. Abramoff's firm, Greenberg Traurig, has reimbursed Tyco.

Safavian, former GSA chief of staff, is to stand trial in April on charges of making false statements to investigators about a 2002 golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff.

Yesterday's filing said the government intends to use the Tyco information to show that Safavian had a motive to lie to government ethics officials about the nature of his relationship with Abramoff.

Barbara Van Gelder, Safavian's attorney, was critical of the filing. "This is really trash-talk trial tactics on the part of the government. It's designed to muddy David's reputation, to try to link him to other investigations. . . . It has no relevance at all to this case."

In the summer and fall of 2002, Safavian also guided Abramoff regarding a policy issue of interest to his tribal clients, who wanted to invest in the Old Post Office building in downtown Washington, according to charging papers filed with Safavian's indictment.

At the same time, Abramoff's associate Neil Volz approached two members of Congress -- House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio) -- and asked if they could write a letter on the policy. On Sept. 12, Young and LaTourette sent the letter to the head of the GSA. The existence of the letter was first noted in charging papers last year, but the identify of the authors was reported by the newspaper Roll Call this week.

LaTourette's spokeswoman said the letter reflected her boss's policy priorities for boosting small businesses. Young's spokesman did not answer questions.

About a month after the letter was sent, Young received $7,000 in contributions from two of Abramoff's tribal clients.

Staff writer Thomas B. Edsall contributed to this report.

Norton Posed for Photo With Abramoff

The Associated Press
Friday, January 27, 2006; 11:04 PM

WASHINGTON -- Interior Secretary Gale Norton posed for a photograph with Jack Abramoff in her second encounter with the lobbyist, a brief face-to-face session in her office in 2002.

The photo, made public Friday evening by Interior officials in response to media requests, shows Norton, Abramoff, an unnamed man, Chief Phillip Martin of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and the tribe's outside counsel, C. Bryant Rogers.

Norton did not speak with Abramoff and the Choctaw chief when they met for the photo, Interior spokeswoman Tina Kreisher said Friday. The men waited while Norton finished a meeting, then posed with her for an official department photo in front of the large fireplace in her office and left, Kreisher said.

Abramoff, who recently pleaded guilty to federal felony charges related to congressional influence peddling, counted among his clients six Indian tribes with casinos. The Interior Department oversees Indian affairs.

In e-mail exchanges that have been made public, he mentioned having an inside track in Norton's Interior Department. He sought congressional help several times to lobby Norton for tribes, and his clients donated heavily to an environmental group Norton founded.

In the wake of the Abramoff scandal, many media outlets have asked for documents relating to contacts Abramoff had with the Interior Department and other Bush administration officials.

President Bush himself appears in photos with the disgraced lobbyist, but the White House has refused to release the photos the president acknowledges were taken.

Bush has said he would cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating Abramoff. But the president has said he has taken pictures with thousands of people and said a photo with Abramoff is not evidence that they were friends.

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday, 76 percent of those surveyed said the Bush administration should provide a list of all meetings any White House officials have had with Abramoff.

Kreisher said the Interior Department posted the photo of Norton and Abramoff on its Web site at because officials wanted to ensure it would be widely circulated.

The photo represents the second time Abramoff and Norton met.

The lobbyist and one of his clients, a member of the Louisiana Coushatta tribe, dined with Norton on Sept. 24, 2001, at a private fundraising dinner.

The photo had been mentioned in testimony by former deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in November. The shot was arranged by Griles, who resigned last year.

Until a request for all images of Norton and Abramoff was filed recently, no one in the department had seen the photo, Kreisher said. "It wasn't something we went looking for," she said.

She added that the photo is considered a document under the Freedom of Information Act, and that the department should have released it to media outlets when they asked for information about Norton and Abramoff. She said the request for photos was filed by The Washington Post.


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