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United States v. Safavian

December 23, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge


This matter is before the Court on the defendant David Safavian's motion to compel discovery under Rule 16 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and its progeny. After the matter was briefed, the Court heard oral argument on November 14, 2005, and then accepted supplemental briefs from the parties during the ensuing two weeks. A summary of the defendant's outstanding discovery requests as of the time of the initial filing, and the defendant's characterization of the government's stated reasons for withholding production, is set forth in Attachment A to the motion to compel.


The defendant is charged in a five-count indictment with three counts of making false statements under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and two counts of obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1505. The indictment charges that the defendant served as Chief of Staff for the Administrator of the General Services Administration ("GSA") from May 16, 2002 to January 2004, and then, from November 2004 to September 2005, as the Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President. Indictment at ¶ 1. The centerpiece of the indictment is the allegation that in July of 2002 the defendant sought an opinion from a GSA ethics officer about whether he could attend a golf trip with lobbyist Jack Abramoff in Scotland and travel on a private jet chartered by Mr. Abramoff that would take the golfing party to Scotland. In the e-mail by which Mr. Safavian sought the ethics opinion, he stated that the lobbyist in question "is a lawyer and lobbyist, but one that has no business before GSA (he does all of his work on Capitol Hill)." Indictment at ¶ 18. The GSA ethics officer responded by e-mail, permitting Mr. Safavian to go on the trip and to accept the gift of free transportation on the ground that "[y]ou stated that neither [Mr. Abramoff] nor his firm does business with or is seeking to do business with GSA." See id. ¶ 19.

Count One of the indictment charges Mr. Safavian with obstruction of justice with regard to an investigation conducted by the Office of the Inspector General ("OIG") of GSA, and specifically alleges that the defendant falsely stated in connection with the investigation that Mr. Abramoff had no business with GSA and that he had paid Abramoff for the total cost of the trip to Scotland. Indictment at ¶ 25. Count Two charges the defendant with making the same false statements in connection with obtaining the GSA ethics opinion. Count Three charges the making of the same false statements in the course of the GSA-OIG investigation. Count Four charges obstruction of justice in connection with an investigation into allegations of misconduct by Mr. Abramoff by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. It relates in part to statements made to the Committee investigator and to the Committee Chairman, Senator John McCain, with respect to Mr. Safavian's statements to the GSA ethics officer. Id. at ¶¶ 36-37. Count Five alleges that Mr. Safavian made false statements to the Committee to the effect that Mr. Abramoff did not have any business with GSA at the time of the trip to Scotland, that Mr. Safavian provided documentation to the Committee containing false statements (his e-mail to the GSA ethics officer), and that he concealed Mr. Abramoff's business relationships with GSA. Id. at ¶ 40.

The defendant seeks documents and information that he contends are necessary and material to the preparation of his defense and/or constitute exculpatory material under Brady.


A. Relevant Standards under Rule 16 and Brady

At the outset, it is apparent that the Justice Department and the defendant have very different views as to the scope of both Rule 16 and the government's Brady obligations. The Court will attempt first to clarify what the government's obligations are and then to apply the appropriate standards to the facts of this case and the requests made by the defendant.

1. Rule 16

Under Rule 16 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the government is required to disclose to the defendant the substance of any relevant oral statement made by the defendant, before or after arrest, in response to interrogation by a person that the defendant knew was a government agent "if the government intends to use the statement at trial." FED. R. CRIM. P. 16(a)(1)(A). This provision of Rule 16 is not limited to questions asked only by Justice Department prosecutors or law enforcement agents. At a minimum, it includes statements made, in response to interrogation, to any officers of the federal government "with criminal law enforcement responsibilities or their agents" -- that is, "law enforcement agents or persons acting on their behalf." United States v. Burns, 15 F.3d 211, 214-15 (1st Cir. 1994); see also United States v. Griggs, 111 F.Supp.2d 551, 554 (M.D. Pa. 2000) (extends to any person "allied with the prosecution once a federal investigation or prosecution commences, such as a state officer working on a joint task force or with the U.S. Attorney's office," so long as that person "interrogates" the defendant).*fn1 In this case, therefore, Rule 16(a)(1)(A) includes questions put to Mr. Safavian by the GSA Office of the Inspector General ("OIG") as well as questions put to him by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. It does not, however, include statements in response to questions asked by the GSA ethics officer or the GSA General Counsel's Office unless those questions were asked in conjunction with or as an adjunct to the OIG or FBI investigations.

Under another provision of Rule 16(a), the government also must provide the defendant with "any relevant written or recorded statement [made] by the defendant if . . . the statement is within the government's possession, custody or control," and the attorney for the government knows "or through due diligence could know" that the statement exists, regardless of whether the government intends to use the statement at trial. FED. R. CRIM. P. 16(a)(1)(B)(i). Interrogation by a "government agent" is not required, only knowledge and possession, custody, or control by "the government." In the Court's view, "the government" includes any and all agencies and departments of the Executive Branch of the government and their subdivisions, not just the Justice Department, the FBI, the GSA-OIG, and other law enforcement agencies. See United States v. Santiago, 46 F.3d 885, 893-94 (9th Cir. 1995); United States v. Bryan, 868 F.2d 1032, 1036 (9th Cir. 1989); cf. United States v. Brooks, 966 F.2d at 1503. It does not, however, include a committee of the United States Senate (or the House of Representatives) because the Congress is a separate branch of the government and was not intended by the Rules writers to be included within Rule 16. Cf. United States v. Trie, 21 F. Supp. 2d 7, 25 n. 17 (D.D.C.) ("The Congress is not an 'agency,' and the DOJ has no obligation under Brady to disclose information in the possession of Congress that is not also in the possession of the DOJ or [another Executive Branch agency]."

Because Rule 16 talks of "possession, custody or control," FED. R. CRIM. P. 16(a)(1)(B)(i), however, the Justice Department must turn over any written or recorded statements in its possession or custody or control regardless of the origin of the statements, so long as the government knows or through due diligence could know of their existence. Thus, the prosecution must disclose any statement of Mr. Safavian in the possession, custody or control of any Executive Branch agency or department, regardless of whether the statement originated from a local law enforcement agency, a non-law enforcement agency of the federal government, or a coordinate branch of the government such as the United States House of Representatives or the United States Senate. As with their Brady obligations, "[t]his personal responsibility [of the Justice Department] cannot be evaded by claiming lack of control over the files or procedures of other executive branch agencies." United States v. Jennings, 960 F.2d 1488, 1490 (9th Cir. 1992). In the course of their investigation, and in collecting and reviewing evidence, the prosecutors must ensure that any information relevant to this case that comes into the possession, control, or custody of the Justice Department remains available for disclosure. See United States v. Marshall, 132 F.3d 63, 69 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (cautioning against government "gamesmanship in discovery matters."). Statements of the defendant are particularly important in this case, and the precise statements made by him to any government agency or official at each and every stage may be extremely relevant to his defense.

Rule 16 next requires the disclosure of all books, papers, documents, data, tangible objects, etc., that are "within the government's possession, custody or control" and are "material to preparing the defense" or "[that] the government intends to use . . . in its case in chief at trial [or that] was obtained from or belongs to the defendant." FED. R. CRIM. P. 16(a)(1)(E). This portion of the Rule also uses the terms "possession, custody or control." So, again, the prosecution must turn over everything in its possession or custody or control, regardless of the original source of the document or other object, so long as it is "material" under the Rule. The defendant argues -- and there is some support for his contention in both the oral and written submissions made by the government to this Court -- that the government reads this part of the Rule in much too limited a way. While it is true that the government must produce items it intends to use at trial and items that it obtained from the defendant, its obligations are not limited to those categories only; it also must disclose items that are "material to preparing the defense." ...

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