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This article was published 20/11/2013 (2279 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — The prime minister's chief of staff went to Stephen Harper for approval of a secret plan that would have seen the Conservative party repay Mike Duffy's contested expenses and whitewash a Senate report, new RCMP documents suggest.
When the party balked at the ultimate total of Duffy's $90,000 bill, however, Nigel Wright paid the bill himself — apparently without Harper's knowledge. Harper has called that a "deception."
But emails included in Wednesday's new RCMP court filings quote Wright as getting a green light from Harper when the original plan was to have the party pay. The plan was to be kept secret.
"I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final," Wright wrote in one February dispatch. An hour later, he followed up: "We are good to go from the PM..."
Asked late Wednesday whether the prime minister was asked in February to approve such a plan, Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Harper, offered a one-word answer: "No."
The 80-page court filing provides an unprecedented look into months of discussions inside the Prime Minister's Office and the Senate on how to deal with the Duffy problem.
RCMP Cpl. Greg Horton alleges senior Conservatives went to great lengths to agree to Duffy's list of demands to ensure he would say publicly he had repaid his living claims, thus making a political headache go away.
Email chains and details from police interviews also make clear exactly who was in the loop about the $90,000 payment from Wright: at least six Conservatives, including the party's former executive director.
That contrasts with the claims made in the House of Commons this spring that no one else was aware of the plan, and that there were no documents related to the matter.
The Mounties say they have found no evidence that the prime minister knew specifically about the $90,000 payment. However, there are suggestions in the file he might have known about other elements of the plan: "The PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy when I was getting him to agree to repay the expenses."
When asked during question period what he told Wright he "was good to go on" in February, Harper said it was about Duffy repaying his expenses. "When we found that was not true, we took the appropriate action, and he has been appropriately sanctioned by the Senate," Harper said, repeating Wright bears sole responsibility for the affair.
The documents indicate that for the first time, the RCMP is lodging a direct allegation against Wright. Horton alleges Wright's agreement with Duffy constitutes fraud and breach of trust because his office was used "for a dishonest purpose, other than for the public good."
No charges have been laid against either Wright or Duffy.
In a terse statement issued Wednesday by his lawyer, Wright insisted his intentions were noble and that he did nothing to break the law.
"My intention was always to secure repayment of funds owed to taxpayers," he said. "I acted within the scope of my duties and remain confident that my actions were lawful. I have no further comment at this time."
The trouble began nearly a year ago, when media reports questioned whether Duffy was a resident of P.E.I., since he appeared to spend most of his time in Ottawa. He had been claiming his longtime Ottawa home as a secondary residence.
Wright told the RCMP that after reviewing Duffy's details, he felt that the senator's expenses were unethical. A back-and-forth ensued, with Duffy refusing to admit fault.
Finally, the two sides came to an agreement. Duffy had conditions to doing a public mea culpa, including: that an independent audit into his expenses not draw conclusions about his residency, that he be repaid and that Tories publicly say he meets the requirements to represent P.E.I.
At the time, the secretive Senate internal economy committee was reviewing his expenses, along with those of three other senators.
"I noted this is all conditional on agreement on the (public) statement and communications bounds being respected by the senator," PMO lawyer Benjamin Perrin told Wright about striking a deal with Duffy.
Wright says he then contacted Sen. Irving Gerstein, head of the Conservative Fund of Canada, and asked if it would cover what was at the time believed to be $32,000 in disallowed Duffy expenses.
Wright says Gerstein agreed; Gerstein told police, however, that he only said he would "consider" the idea. That contradicts what Gerstein told Conservative party members earlier this month: "I made it absolutely clear to Nigel Wright that the Conservative Fund of Canada would not pay for Sen. Duffy's disputed expenses, and it never did."
Indeed, the fund refused to pay once the bill topped $90,000. It was then that Wright decided he would just repay the amount himself.
— The Canadian Press