Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/11/2013 (2374 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- What exactly went down on Feb. 22, 2013, when the prime minister's chief of staff approached him about how to deal with the Mike Duffy Senate expenses headache?
Two clear but very different versions of events have emerged:
A) Nigel Wright meets with Harper and conceals the details of an agreement with Duffy, but then tells other staff in the Prime Minister's Office the PM has approved the deal.
B) Harper was informed of and approved a deal, or parts of a deal, that could turn out to be criminal.
Duffy and Wright face police allegations of bribery, breach of trust and fraud in connection with the fateful agreement. No charges have yet been laid.
Stephen Harper's spokesman, Jason MacDonald, spoke to a variety of media outlets on Sunday to lay out in detail Harper's account in the wake of a release of an RCMP affidavit on the affair.
'Ultimately, Mr. Wright has taken responsibility for this'‐ Harper spokesman Jason MacDonald
MacDonald said when Wright and Harper met that day, Wright sought approval to "compel" a stubborn Duffy to repay his contested housing expenses -- at that time estimated at only $32,000.
"You have a caucus member who is actively resisting paying, doesn't believe he did anything wrong, doesn't believe he should repay it," MacDonald told The Canadian Press.
"So Nigel goes back to the prime minister and says, 'We're going to go back to him again and tell him he has to repay it, and he's not going to like that, he's going to resist it and he's going to fight it,' and we all know that even to this day he still doesn't believe he did anything wrong or should have had to repay, and hasn't."
When asked how Wright proposed to "compel" Duffy to repay, whether there was some sort of ultimatum attached, MacDonald said it was just telling Duffy to repay. The opposition have ridiculed the suggestion Harper's permission was sought simply to have Duffy repay his own expenses.
Wright's version, revealed in emails and interviews obtained by the RCMP in their ongoing investigation, suggests Wright went to Harper with a different, much more elaborate scenario that included covering Duffy's expenses.
At the time, discussions were underway between the PMO and Duffy's lawyer, Janice Payne, that would see the embattled senator repay his expenses and say so publicly, even though he felt he had done nothing wrong. In exchange, the party would repay him for the outlay, Duffy would be spared any further questions about whether Ottawa or P.E.I. was his primary residence and he would be withdrawn from a Senate-commissioned audit.
At the time, Duffy was being scrutinized for claiming housing expenses for a secondary residence in Ottawa, even though that was where he mainly lived.
Wright wrote to PMO lawyer Benjamin Perrin and other staffers on Feb. 22 about the deal.
"Ben, please go back to Ms. Payne on these points and ascertain where they stand on everything else. I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered," Wright wrote to the PMO lawyer and other staffers on Feb. 22, messaging back an hour later: "We are good to go from the PM..."
Ultimately, when Duffy's expense bill reached $90,000, an apparently exasperated Wright decided to cover the cost himself -- something at least six other Conservatives were told about. Harper has insisted he was not in the loop about that either.
When the story broke in the media in May, Wright wrote to another PMO staffer telling him, "The PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy when I was getting him to agree to pay the expenses."
Three of the other major figures in the deal with Duffy -- Sen. Irving Gerstein, former PMO director of issues management Chris Woodcock, and parliamentary affairs manager Patrick Rogers -- remain employed by either the party or the government.
MacDonald repeated Harper's argument that Wright bears sole responsibility.
But Gerstein, chairman of the Conservative Fund Canada, was not Wright's subordinate. In fact, Wright sought Gerstein's approval to use party funds to repay Duffy.
The 80-page RCMP court file showed Gerstein approached a contact he knew at the firm Deloitte to ask about the audit they were doing on Duffy's expenses for the Senate.
They wanted the examination of Duffy's residency to be declared moot as soon as he repaid his expenses, which was part of Duffy's demands.
Following that Gerstein contact, emails between figures inside the PMO suggest some sort of information was communicated to them about the audit. The Senate committee that first commissioned the audit has summoned Deloitte to answer questions about this on Thursday.
Harper was also unaware this was going on, MacDonald said.
"One, he was not aware that Mr. Gerstein was reaching out to Deloitte or had been asked to reach out to Deloitte, and again, had he known about that, he would have put a stop to it," he said.
MacDonald and Harper have emphasized only Wright and Duffy face allegations of criminal wrongdoing. But did they breach any moral or ethical standards by playing along with the Duffy scheme?
"Ultimately, Mr. Wright has taken responsibility for this. Yes, he has identified people that he informed of what he was doing, or involved in some way, but ultimately these folks are not being investigated by the RCMP," said MacDonald.
-- The Canadian Press