They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker
By the end of the prosecution's half-hour opening statement, at least one reporter had begun "resting his eyes." Yawning was visible in the press section of the gallery. (By my count, the jury held out for an admirable hour and fifty minutes, succumbing only after the defense had begun its statement.) I felt lucky to be leaving after the first arguments.
Safavian sat at the defense table, and took copious notes throughout the proceedings. Behind him sat his wife, sister, and other supporters. At an early break, a larger man gave him a handshake and a hug and asked how he was doing. "Hangin' tough," Safavian murmured.
Abbe Lowell, Abramoff's lawyer, was there to watch the prosecution's opening statement. In idle chatter, he agreed with a New York Times reporter's world-weary comparison of the blandness of the venue -- an airy, well-lit courtroom in the new annex of the J. Barrett Prettyman District Court Building -- to a Hyatt hotel.
The defense opening statement was delivered by Barbara van Gelder, one of the best federal prosecutors-turned-pricey-defense-lawyers D.C. has to offer. Safavian was a good friend and a dupe to Abramoff, she said, and he was "proud" of his friendship with the lobbyist. "They had a common interest in golf and racquetball," she told the jury, and made the by-now evident observation that in this trial, "you'll hear a lot about golf."
Aside from rebutting a number of the prosecution's points, van Gelder signaled she was preparing to go after Neil Volz. Volz is a former Abramoff colleague and onetime aide to Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH). Volz also went on the Scotland trip, and he's already cut a plea deal with prosecutors, which van Gelder wasted no time pointing out will reduce his stay in prison. His testimony is expected to be one of the highlights of the trial.
"Neil Volz is crawling out of jail on David Safavian's back," she declared. As proof, she asserted, Volz met with the Feds seven times, and each time his version of Safavian's involvement with Abramoff grew worse, which she cast as an effort by Volz to twist the truth to please prosecutors.
Aside from the verdict, the fate of Volz's testimony may be one of the most interesting details of the trial. If Safavian's legal team can successfully cast doubt on Volz's motives or recollection, it could be a harbinger of how poorly testimony from other Abramoff plea-dealers might fare. That is, if anybody stays awake for it.