Team Abramoff on the witness stand

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If there were a key to not being caught up in the excesses of Washington lobbying, maybe it's this: Don't learn how to play golf. In a federal courtroom this week in Washington, former General Services Administration official David Safavian is on trial for allegedly accepting favors from the disgraced ex-superlobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for helping him navigate the GSA. In a way, it's an old-boy-network story–and it's one we've heard a lot lately in relationship to Abramoff.

In this case, the star witness is a guy named Neil Volz, once a top congressional staffer to the powerful Ohio Rep. Bob Ney, now under criminal investigation himself. In court, he spoke of the Washington game of trading favors for influence. Volz, who has already pleaded guilty to some of this insiderism, is clearly looking for a way to avoid jail time. His story–and the pictures he brought with him–seem sadly true.

In one picture, he's with a bunch of middle-aged guys at the posh St. Andrews course in Scotland–on a trip arranged by Abramoff in 2002. With him is Ney, his former boss; both men were in positions to do Abramoff a bunch of favors. So how much did Ney record as this trip's worth on his official disclosure form? How about $3,200–which isn't even the cost of the private jet airfare, or the catering on the private plane, or the greens fees ($400 per round of golf), or the nightly hotel bill?

Volz was working for Abramoff at the time, part of a group of eager–and greedy–go-getters who referred to themselves as "Team Abramoff." They nicknamed their powerful Capitol Hill friends–like Ney–"champions," officials who could deliver on their pet requests. Ney, for instance, was asked for legislation to get some federal land transferred to Abramoff for a private Jewish academy. Safavian was asked for some help in turning Washington's landmark old post office building into a luxury hotel.

Prosecutor: What did you do?

Volz: I was trying to break the rules ... so clients could get a leg up on the competition.

Guess it didn't work. And now look for more indictments, and more trials, as the feds start to wrap up these congressional probes before the summer–so they don't get accused of attempting to influence the November elections.