Federal court overturns obstruction conviction of former White House official

Federal court overturns obstruction conviction of former White House official

[JURIST] A panel of judges in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Tuesday reversed [opinion, PDF] the conviction of former White House official David Safavian [JURIST news archive] because of previous judicial error and the use of incorrect legal standards at the trial court level. A federal jury convicted [DOJ press release; JURIST report] Safavian in 2006 on three counts of concealing and falsifying information [18 USC s. 1001(a)(1) text] and one count of obstructing justice [18 USC s. 1505 text] during an investigation into his 2002 golfing trip with former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff [JURIST news archive]. Safavian moved for an acquittal later that year, which the district judge denied [opinion, PDF], but the appeals panel Tuesday primarily agreed with Safavian's arguments. The panel held:

We do not think s. 1001 demands that individuals choose between saying everything and saying nothing. No case stands for that proposition. We therefore conclude that Safavian had no legal duty to disclose and that his concealment convictions cannot stand.

Regarding the judge's exclusion of expert testimony on typical business practices, the panel wrote:

The court at one point recognized that “[w]hat was in the defendant’s mind is at issue in this case.” But excluding the expert testimony effectively preempted the jury’s conclusion on this issue.

The panel reversed two of the concealment charges and remanded the remaining charges. The Washington Post has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.

Abramoff was allegedly trying to buy General Services Administration (GSA) [official website] property during the time he took a golf trip to Scotland with Safavian, then the administrator of the White House Office of Procurement Policy [official website] and chief of staff at the GSA. Officials accused Safavian of helping Abramoff deal with the GSA and indicted [JURIST report] Safavian on charges of obstructing a GSA investigation, making false statements to GSA officials and making a false statement to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee [official website]. After Safavian's conviction, the district court sentenced him to 18 months in prison [DOJ press release; JURIST report], but he was released pending appeal [order, PDF].