In 2004, Safavian was serving as Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy, Office of Management and Budget, when he was arrested and charged with crimes in connection with the Abramoff corruption scandal. He was convicted on four of five charges on October 27, 2006, and sentenced to 18 months in prison. However, on June 17, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously reversed Safavian's convictions based on trial errors, and ordered a new trial. On December 19, 2008, at his retrial, Safavian was convicted again of perjury. He was sentenced to a year in prison. On June 26, 2017, Safavian was disbarred from the practice of law in the Supreme Court of the United States.
Safavian was born into an Iranian-American family in Grosse Ile, Michigan. He attended private schools and graduated fifth in his class at Detroit College of Law. He also studied at Loyola University Maryland, Georgetown University Law Center, Michigan State University College of Law, and Saint Louis University.
After college, Safavian became politically active, serving as an aide to Congressmen Robert William Davis (R-MI) and Bill Schuette (R-MI) in Washington, DC. He next shifted into lobbying.
In the mid-1990s, Safavian became friends with lobbyist Jack Abramoff when the two worked at the Washington-based lobbying firm of Preston Gates & Ellis. They brought in millions to the firm while working on the Mississippi Choctaw tribal account. The pair were also members of a team, reports CNN, “that was lobbying to keep the Northern Mariana Islands [a US territory] free from certain US labor and immigration laws.”
In 1997, Safavian and Grover Norquist founded a lobbying firm, the Merritt Group, which they renamed as Janus-Merritt Strategies (it is sometimes referred to as "Janus Merritt" or simply "Janus"). The firm promoted Republican ideology. "We represent clients who really do have an interest in a smaller federal government," Safavian told Legal Times in a 1997 interview. "We're all very ideologically driven, and have a bias in favor of free markets." He continued: "We're not letting people who offer us money change our principles."
The firm's clients included businesses such as BP America, the U.S. division of British Petroleum. They also had foreign clients, such as the Corporacion Venezolana de Cementos and Grupo Financiero Banorte. They represented the National Indian Gaming Commission and Indian tribes working on gaming, such as the Saginaw Chippewa, a client the firm shared with Jack Abramoff; and the Viejas band of Kumeyaay Indians. Safavian also registered as a lobbyist for the governments of Pakistan and Gabon, and Pascal Lissouba, the former president of the Republic of the Congo.
In 1999, Safavian founded the Internet Consumer Choice Coalition, a nonprofit organized to oppose a bill to make online gambling a federal crime; it had been written by Republican Arizona US Senator Jon Kyl. Coalition members included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of Concerned Taxpayers, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Interactive Services Association, the Small Business Survival Committee, and the United States Internet Council. Some coalition members—the Interactive Services Association, for one—were also independent clients of Safavian. Americans for Tax Reform, another member, was the activist group led by Norquist. An Oct. 12, 2006 Senate Finance Committee report concludes that most of these organizations abused their tax-exempt status through participation in such lobbying through the Coalition.
In January 2001, Safavian left Janus-Merritt when he was selected as Chief of Staff by Representative Chris Cannon.
In early 2002, Safavian began looking for a new job. On February 4, 2002, he sent lobbyist Jack Abramoff his resume, receiving a very positive response five days later. In mid-April, Safavian interviewed at Greenberg Traurig, the firm that employed Abramoff. Soon after that he was offered a political appointee position at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the business arm of the government. On April 30, he wrote to Abramoff: "my gut is telling me to take the GSA job before joining up with you and your band of merry men."
On May 16, 2002, GSA Administrator Stephen A. Perry named Safavian as Senior Advisor and Acting Deputy Chief of Staff at the GSA. He took the place of Angela Styles, an advisor known for challenging Congressional pressure to award contracts to particular firms. "The most serious challenge to Styles came from Rep. Tom Davis (R.-Va.), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee." Two months later, Safavian was named Chief of Staff of the GSA to replace Brian Allan Jackson. He was leaving the agency to study for an MBA from Harvard Business School.
On November 4, 2003, President George W. Bush announced Safavian's nomination as Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy, Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President. He had the responsibility to set purchasing policy for the entire government.
David Safavian was indicted October 5, 2005. He was accused of making false statements and obstructing investigations into his dealings with Jack Abramoff while he was chief of staff for the General Services Administration. His trial started May 25, 2006. He was convicted on four of five felony counts of lying and obstruction on June 20.
His attorney appealed the verdicts and all of the convictions were overturned unanimously by the Judges Raymond Randolph, Harry Edwards, and Judith Rodgers of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 17, 2008. (They had been appointed by presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton, respectively.) The three-judge panel of the court of appeals found that the Department of Justice had vastly overreached in charging Safavian. Moreover, the appeals court found that the trial court had committed reversible error by allowing the Justice Department to use the equivalent of expert witness testimony, but did not grant Safavian the same latitude.
Because Safavian's defense was unfairly limited, the court overturned all four convictions. Double jeopardy was applied to at least one charge and an additional specification. This left only three of the original five charges for which the prosecution could retry Safavian.
Safavian was retried and convicted of lying. On October 16, 2009 he was sentenced to a year in prison for lying about his association with Jack Abramoff by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman. Friedman deferred the prison reporting date to allow Safavian to be with his pregnant wife when she delivered their child.
David Safavian is married. He and his wife have a daughter.