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Cannon calls arrest of former aide 'sad'

WASHINGTON — Utah Rep. Chris Cannon on Tuesday said news that his former chief of staff was arrested in connection with a criminal investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff was "disturbing and sad."

David Safavian, a Bush administration official and Cannon's chief of staff for two years ending in 2002, was pulled into the federal probe Monday, charged with making false statements and obstructing the federal investigation into his dealings with Abramoff.

Among other things, Abramoff's lobbying relationship to Indian tribes is being scrutinized.

Cannon said Tuesday in an e-mailed response to questions from The Associated Press that he was unaware of the details of the investigation of Safavian or the charges filed against him.

"I can only hope that they are proven to be untrue," Cannon said. "At the same time, government officials should be held to a high standard of law and conduct, and David Safavian is not an exception."

On Friday, Safavian, a former chief of staff of the General Services Administration and Abramoff lobbying associate, resigned from his post as the Bush administration's top procurement official.

As a lobbyist, Safavian represented a diverse group of clients that included the National Indian Gaming Association and the Interactive Gaming Council.

Safavian's ties to gambling have in the past led critics to question some of Cannon's votes and positions on issues.

A staunch gambling opponent, Cannon was criticized in 2003 for working against a bill that would restrict Internet gambling.

Supporters of the bill noted at the time that Cannon had received thousands of dollars in political contributions from Indian tribes with casinos.

On Tuesday, Cannon said political donations have not affected his actions in Congress. He said he had been concerned about "carve-outs" in the bill that would have pre-empted state law and legalized gambling in Utah, one of only two states that prohibits any form of gambling.

"People donate to my campaign because of positions I take and not the other way around," he said. "I have always opposed Internet gambling and have led that fight. My voting has been consistent on all issues that David has been involved in before and since his tenure with my office."