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RCMP document contradicts PM

Harper's insistence aide acted alone in Duffy affair at issue

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'Those were his decisions. They were not communicated to me or to members of my office': Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

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'Those were his decisions. They were not communicated to me or to members of my office': Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

OTTAWA -- Stephen Harper is facing accusations he misled Canadians about the Mike Duffy expenses scandal after a court document contradicted the prime minister's version of events.

Under intense questioning about the affair throughout the spring, Harper repeatedly insisted his chief of staff, Nigel Wright, acted on his own when he decided to give Duffy $90,000 to reimburse the Senate for invalid expense claims.

"Those were his decisions. They were not communicated to me or to members of my office," Harper said June 5.

But the RCMP, which has launched a criminal probe, says in a court document that Wright recalls telling three other senior people in the Prime Minister's Office about the transaction.

Wright had not been interviewed by the Mounties at the time the document was filed in court by lead investigator Cpl. Greg Horton on June 24. But the document recounts a June 19 meeting with Wright's lawyers, Patrick McCann and Peter Mantas.

The lawyers told the RCMP Wright recalls telling his assistant, David van Hemmen; Harper's legal adviser, Benjamin Perrin; and Chris Woodcock, director of issues management in the PMO, about his intention to personally give Duffy the money to reimburse the Senate.

'Those were his decisions. They were not communicated to me or to members of my office'

-- Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Perrin, who has since left the PMO, has denied he was consulted or participated in any arrangement between Duffy and Wright.

Wright resigned as Harper's chief of staff in May, five days after news of his "gift" to Duffy leaked out.

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said the court document shows Harper misled Parliament. "What is very clear is that the prime minister of this country and his key ministers misled Parliament and Canadians about a potentially illegal payout that was organized out of his office," Angus said Friday.

Harper has insisted he knew nothing about the transaction until it was first reported by news media, and Wright's lawyers back up that contention in the court document.

Even so, Angus said Harper had ample opportunity after the news broke to find out the extent of his office's involvement and to provide correct information to Parliament.

"A plan was cooked up with key advisers and key senators to make a political problem go away," Angus said.

"But where the plausible deniability falls apart is when the prime minister starts getting asked questions about what happened. Clearly, then he would've been briefed, so he must have known (the correct facts).

"There's no possible explanation that he would not have been briefed once this story broke, and so it was incumbent on him to come clean with Canadians, and that didn't happen."

Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall declined to discuss the court documents other than to issue an email statement: "This file was handled by Nigel Wright and he has taken sole responsibility. The (court) affidavit is clear that the prime minister was not aware of the payment."

Wright issued only a terse statement through his lawyer: "I have offered and given my assistance to the investigation and I intend to continue to do so. I have no further comments at this time."

Angus said the document raises disturbing questions about the Tory party's willingness to flout the law.

According to Horton, Wright also told Sen. Irving Gerstein, who controls the ruling party's purse strings, about his intention to give Duffy the money to reimburse the Senate.

Indeed, his lawyers told the RCMP the party was initially prepared to repay the money for Duffy until it discovered the price tag was three times steeper than originally thought.

"When it was realized that the cost was actually $90,000, it was too much money to ask the Conservative party to cover," the document says.

"Wright then offered to cover the cost for Duffy, believing it was the proper ethical decision that taxpayers not be out that amount of money."

Party spokesman Fred DeLorey did not respond directly to questions about the Conservatives' willingness to foot Duffy's bill. He said only: "The Conservative Fund did not pay or reimburse any of the ineligible expenses."

If it was illegal for Wright to give a cash gift to a sitting senator, Angus said it would have been equally illegal for the party to do so.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 A4

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