After a flurry of last-minute changes to the schedule – literally, the most recent was at 7:30 this morning and, for all I know, it’s been rejigged again during the half hour or so it took to make it from my apartment to the Hill. It looks like today’s meeting is going to go into extra innings in order to accommodate a very special witness: PMO chief of staff Ian Brodie, who may or may not have unwittingly (or not so unwittingly) kicked off the whole NAFTA leak debacle by suggesting, during an off the record chat with CTV at the budget lockup, that either the Clinton or the Obama campaign had assured Canada that the anti-trade sabre-rattling by the two leading Democratic candidates was nothing but sound and fury to shore up support.
This, of course, led to the initial CTV report, which attributed the comments to a senior PMO staffer, later identified by ABC as Brodie, which, in turn, seems to have sparked the leak of a not-apparently-all-that-secret confidential memo prepared by Canadian consulate staff for the embassy, which eventually found its way to the Associated Press. The rest, as they say, is history. Well, history that is still happening, anyway. Technically, I think that means it’s “news.”
Today’s meeting – the first that the committee has held on the leak – features an all-star cast of characters, including (maybe) the Clerk of the Privy Council, Kevin Lynch, who investigated the matter at the behest of PMO, and concluded that there was no actual wrongdoings done (although he did slap the collective wrist of Foreign Affairs for allowing the memo to fall into leak-hungry hands). It is also competing for the affections of the media against the much-anticipated launch of Stephane Dion’s Green Shift – AKA the Permanent Tax on Everything, as well as a hastily-arranged Prime Ministerial field trip to Huntsville for a tour of the local fireworks and candy factory, free kittens and pony rides, and whatever the Government Announcement Random Generator was able to crank out in time to try to steal some of the Liberals’ thunder.
There was probably a really good Tesla joke in the making there, but I should probably not wear my geekhood on my sleeve quite so boldly.
Lights, camera, action! Action? Ah, there we go: the chair, Liberal MP Diane Marleau, who – I’ll say it right now – I have my doubts is aware of just how lively this meeting might get – introduces herself, gives a brief recap of what the committee hopes to find out, and then opens the floor to the witnesses to make whatever opening statements they may have, starting with the Clerk of the Privy Council and the author of the eponymous report on the leak, Kevin Lynch.
And now, a live-action reenactment of the making of the Lynch Report, performed by Kevin Lynch. He assures the committee that his investigation was conducted in an entirely thorough and competent fashion. Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to be the end of it.
He describes the logistics and scope of the investigation – everything from interviews of various officials, both Canadian and American, to routing through BlackBerry traffic. He does note, perhaps more than paranthetically, that the focus was on ministerial staffers and not on, say, Republican operatives formerly employed (over protests from the staff) at the Canadian embassy.
“There is no evidence that Ambassador Wilson disclosed any confidential information,” he says.
Wait, is he just re-reading his report? I think he was. Anyway, he’s done now, and since no one else has anything to say, it’s onto the question-and-answer session.
Navdeep Bains manages to make me flinch within seconds of beginning his round of questions by stating, as though it’s an established fact, that this scandal is now known as NAFTAGate. No, it isn’t. Not as long as I have breath in my body.
Anyway, he wonders why the investigation didn’t contact the CTV reporters directly rather than the network. Lynch tells him that they actually did write to the reporters directly; it was the network that responded on their behalf.
What about the Associated Press, Bains wonders. Why didn’t Lynch try to interview the reporter who got the leaked memo in the first place? Lynch explains the jurisdictional tangle that prevented him from being able to do so, although I’m not sure if there’s any law that says he couldn’t ask the reporter in question if she would participate in an interview on a purely voluntary basis, but Lynch seems doubtful that there would be any chance that he would have been able to garner support from US authorities to pursue the issue.
Bains reminds Lynch that the committee is particularly interested in finding out who leaked the memo to AP, and wonders whether he was really able to fulfill his mandate by just giving up on that line of inquiry before he’d even tried to follow the leak to its American source.
Patrick Cummins, one of the two private investigators hired by PCO, tells Bains that it would have been a “non-starter” to approach AP, because of the whole sacred oath to protect sources that is so widely respected in the United States.
On to the Bloc Québécois and Diane Bourgeois, who also seems puzzled by Lynch’s apparent lack of interest in chasing the leak across the border. Once again, Cummins reminds her that it would be most irregular for Canadian authorities to question Americans on a non-criminal matter, and even if there had been a potential criminal component to the alleged activities, it would have required the cooperation of US authorities.
“Americans are like us,” Cummins explains. “They’re governed by the rule of law.” Tell it to Omar Khadr’s lawyer.
Bourgeois gives the investigators credit for doing the best that they could, and moves on to the leaked memo itself: the copy obtained by AP had typos and grammatical errors. Did those same errors reappear anywhere else? Cummins explains that the memo was re-typed, which is how those mistakes crept into the copy, but the fact that every other media outlet reproduced them convinced him that there was only one original copy.
Bourgeois doesn’t understand how the “electronic trail” failed to reveal the source of the leak.
James Moore takes the floor for the government, and starts out by complimenting the witnesses for being so willing to appear on short notice. He then quizzes Lynch on whether he was able to conduct an independent investigation, with no interference from the Prime Minister. Not surprisingly, Lynch assures him that was the case, and Moore asks for a bit of background on BCMI Investigation, which its principals happily provide. Moore then goes into a tangent about political panels – where parties put up spokespeople to debate each other and not listen, he notes – and as a regular guest on many such panels, he would know.
He wonders whether Lynch wants to respond to those scurrilous suggestions made by some opposition members that his report shouldn’t be taken seriously, since it was just the government investigating itself, and the Clerk does so.
“Was there any deliberate interference?” Cummins muses. “Certainly not.”
An odd choice of words, that.
Paul Meyer, the director general for security at Foreign Affairs, speaks up for the first time. He acknowledges that his department screwed up, although not, he hastens to add, out of malice, and assures the committee that the system has been tightened up considerably. If anyone on this witness panel is going to be thrown to the wolves, it’ll be him.
Charlie Angus wonders who authorized the memo to be distributed far and wide, and Meyer once again notes that this was, in fact, a mistake. But it won’t happen again. Angus has some difficulty with the explanation – a low level functionary making a mistake – and reminds the committee and the witnesses why this was such a significant event. Using the Lynch Report timeline, which really is a handy tool, although possibly not worth $150,000 as a stand-alone product, he describes what he says is a prima facie case of a government trying to derail the democratic – or possibly Democratic – process. “Do you expect us to take it as face value that this was just some cipher clerk making a mistake?” He wonders.
The body language on the government side of the table just took on a distinctly hostile tone.
Lynch points out that Brodie hadn’t even seen the memo yet when he first got chatty with CTV at the lockup, but Angus reminds him that Brodie had just gotten back from Washington. Presumably, he would have had some reason to make the comments he made. (Maybe he heard about it from Gordon Giffin during that cosy working dinner he, Lynch, and the former ambassador enjoyed in January.)
Charlie Angus notes that he used to be an investigative journalist – and a counterculture rock star! – and these stories tend to start with a source, not the document. The recommendations in the report, he says, is like being stoned to death by popcorn, which is officialy the awesomest analogy of the day. He also doesn’t like the whole “blame the media” tone that the report takes. It was Brodie whose loose lips started the chain reaction that led to the memo leak; he shoud take responsibility.
“Thank you, Mr. Angus,” says an already weary-voiced Diane Marleau.
Second round for Navdeep Bains. He, too, finds the recommendations “weak.” Lynch gives a long, slightly defensive reply, in which he tries to justify the fact that he did not, in the end, find the source of the leak. His role was to investigate what the PM asked him to investigate. Yeah, that may be the problem here.
Bains is getting frustrated; it’s not enough to just say there was a leak – this leak may have changed the course of the American election, or at least the Democratic nomination. Unfortunately, Lynch doesn’t seem to think that was his responsibility. He was asked to look into the leak, not opine on the effect it may have had.
Meille Faille also criticizes the – less than conclusive nature of the report, which, she points out, uses the conditional tense far too often. Lynch, backed up by PCO security director Yvan Ryan, insists that it was an “exhaustive” investigation, but Faille points to all the grey areas and unanswered questions. What about the Americans who weren’t interviewed, she wonders. Cummins doesn’t see what they would have to add, really. Why not interview every Canadian working on the Obama or Clinton campaigns, he wonders. Wait, is that a rhetorical question? And what about adding the McCain and – were Huckabee or Romney still in the race at that point? – campaign(s) to that list.
The government side is up again, and this time, it’s Daryl Kramp at the mic. He begins with a gentle needling of Charlie Angus for his theorizing on the significance of the leak, which he suggests could give John Grisham a run for his money. He then moves on – or rather back – to the credibility of BMCI, which gives Cummins a chance to expand on his earlier reply.
The upshot: BMCI, and Cummins personally, have conducted dozens and dozens of investigations over the last few decades, ranging from the infamous Doug Small alleged budget leak to something for Roy Romanow; I sort of started to zone out halfway through the answer.
It’s a top notch firm, utterly beyond the pale to suggest otherwise, and he would never, ever have attempted to follow the leak into the US, because it could have landed him in jail for two years for contravening international law. So there, opposition!
Even in the face of such masterful investigative competence, Bains persists. He just doesn’t see why Brodie would necessarily need a formal memo to possess confidential information, or pass it onto friendly television reporters. Bains wonders at the possibility of conflict of interest, given the close working relationship between Lynch and Brodie – like that dinner! – but the clerk assures him that there was nothing untoward.
Finally, someone – Bains – has brought up Frank Senbrenner. Did his name ever come up during the investigation? No, says Lynch – and he wasn’t even on that famous 200+ name distribution list. “There is no evidence to suggest that gentleman was involved,” says Cummins, who then refers, perhaps subconsciously, to the chair as “Mr. President.” Poor Diane Marleau. Anyway, he also wants to point out that this sort of gossip – the stuff Brodie passed on to CTV – was swirling all over the capital.
Good heavens, it’s newly elected Conservative byelection bonus Rob Clarke. I’ve not seen him since he was sworn in as an MP last March. He wants to remind the committee to stick to its mandate, and asks for more details on the “generally accepted practices” for conducting this sort of investigation.
I’m going to spare readers an exhaustive report on the exhaustiveness of the report, courtesy of the guy hired to do the investigation in the first place. If he says anything new or intriguing, I’ll pass it on.
Finally, back to the Bloc Québécois and Diane Bourgeois, who’s getting testy. She once again nitpicks the wording of the report itself and how there are not enough statements of fact – too many maybes and allegedlys. The report is “vaguer than it should have been,” which should be translated into Latin and made the official civil service motto for writing a politically sensitive report.
She doesn’t blame Lynch, though; she doesn’t think he was given all the freedom necessary to conduct a real investigation. She’s also skeptical of the portrayal of Foreign Affairs officials as bumbling idiots, given their historic reputation for competence.
Lynch sort of agrees. He just got back from Afghanistan and was very impressed by what Foreign Affairs officials are doing on the ground there. He stresses that he really didn’t mean to suggest that the department is full of morons.
The real issue, as far as Charlie Angus is concerned, is the seeding of the story. Brodie was in Washington at the very same time that NAFTA was heating up as an issue in the Democratic primaries. And yet, he wasn’t briefed on that? Then there was the bizarre transition from the Obama to the Clinton campaign, and — Daryl Kramp finally catches the eye of the chair, and reminds her that the mandate is the scope of the investigation, not… whatever it is he thinks Charlie Angus is going to say next.
Undaunted – and unsquelched by the chair – Angus continues to lay out his case. First, the comments from Brodie, then the seeding of the story, then Ambassador Wilson being dragged in, and only then, the leak of the memo. Why not investigate everything – not just that memo?
The PM’s chief spin doctor seeded the story with the Canadian media, Angus concludes – and Lynch, or at least his report, are “covering the ass” of the spin doctor in question. He also thinks it’s utterly ridiculous that veteran diplomats and staffers are being sent for remedial courses in how not to shoot their mouths off to the media, and Brodie is left pretty much unchastised. You know, when he puts it like that, it’s hard to disagree.
And – with that, there’s a break for a vote; the chair doesn’t seem to know whether or not the witnesses need to stick around, although she acknowledges that there may be more questions. She then rambles on about the difference between the machinations of politicians and the machinery of government, and basically torpedoes the very mandate of her committee’s investigation by saying that the report – which looked at the machinery of government – was a thorough and adequate review.
The bells are still going off, but the Conservatives wanted to give Cummins one more chance to talk about what a good job he and his firm did and how everyone cooperated – especially PMO and PCO – and, most importantly, that there was no political interference.
A tidbit: one “young staffer” – not clear from which department or office – was interviewed four times. I wonder who that was.
Poor Foreign Affairs guy reminds the committee that these are human beings. Human beings! They make mistakes! Everyone nods sympathetically.
A last question before the committee suspends for the vote from Bains, who bristles at the characterization of his suspicions as a conspiracy theory; Ambassador Wilkins himself has called it “interference.”
He then points out that he didn’t bring up Sensenbrenner’s name just to smear a random Republican operative; it came up during coverage of the story. What other names have came up that haven’t yet appeared in the press, he asks? Lynch won’t tell him – privacy concerns. Alas.
And with that, the meeting is suspended until five minutes after the vote. An actual time would have been helpful for those of us who won’t actually be in the chamber. Anyway, when we return, it’s time for Ian Brodie. Fun!
You know, it may been just another dilatory motion that dragged committee members to the House in the midst of the all-morning meeting, but I’ll confess that the impromptu break couldn’t have come at a better time for certain livebloggers, whose fingers were tiring and spirit was fading. I popped across the hall to take in the spectacle surrounding the launch of the Green Shift – which was so well attended that they actually had an overflow room – and snacked on a croissant, and now I’m back, ready for the next, and altogether more potentially incendiary, portion of the meeting.
Ian Brodie is already here – accompanied, of course, by a full contingent of cameras. The meeting hasn’t re-started yet, and he’s not officially expected to appear until 11:30, but he seems to be enjoying himself tremendously – shaking hands with MPs, being accosted by sycophantic staffers, possibly smiling but maybe he was just baring his teeth at livebloggers. Maybe afterwards we can chat about the US election! Is he a McCain Man or an Obamaniac?
We’re back in session, and Ian Brodie has an opening statement to make: it’s very short – I’m staring at a copy right now – and sticks to the specific allegation against him that spawned the Lynch report. Which, as he notes, exonerates him on page 9. So that’s that, I guess. What will the committee talk about for the next 57 minutes?
Oh, the PM was “furious” about the leak of the memo, and remains “furious” to this day. I bet he’s thrilled to bits by this study.
First up is Bains, who asks if Brodie did, in fact, speak to a CTV reporter about NAFTA. After some back and forth – “it’s covered in the report,” he points out – Brodie acknowledges he did speak to CTV reporters, among others, on a number of issues, including, apparently, NAFTA.
Bains wonders if he understands the “ramifications” of his comments, and points out that Ambassador Wilkins told CBC radio that it was, in fact, interference.
Please stop dubbing it NAFTAgate, Navdeep. I’m begging you.
A good question: Who, Bains wonders, are the mysterious PMO Officials One and Two, as referenced in the report? Brodie doesn’t know – and wouldn’t that have been a better question for Lynch?
Brodie is a litte less comfortable discussing the lead-up to the leak inquiry; he notes that it was soon ceded to PCO.
Bains wonders if Brodie had any contact with US officials or campaign staffers – on any campaign – to discuss the issue, or the impact that the leak had on the race. Brodie says he did not.
On to Bourgoeois, who says she’s confused as to exactly when Brodie became the victim in this saga. Is he really leaving PMO because of it? No, Brodie says. He’s been on the Hill for just over five years, it’s a 24/7 job, and really, after two and a half years in government, he wants to do something else. He laughs and, after a moment, so do the sycophantic staffers.
Bourgeois notes that he was in the US just before the budget lockup, and asks who he met with during his visit; Brodie calls it an “interesting question”, which usually means it won’t get an answer.
He says that this was a continuation of meetings on the Manley report. It was all to do with the continuation of the Afghanistan mission, and he was the only political person there. The first stop was at the Embassy, to meet Ambassador Wilson and various staffers. This was to get them focused on the “playout” of the Manley Report in Washington. They then met with other officials, none of whom seem to have names, but Bourgeois wants to know whether it was possible that a misunderstanding arose at some point, as far as which campaign had said what to whom.
Brodie tells her that “none of this” – the leak stuff – was on the horizon at that point, since he hadn’t yet spoken to CTV at that point, so there was no story brewing. “So there was no communication between PMO and the embassy on the information disclosed at the budget?” Brodie can’t confirm that. He can, however, state that he didn’t speak with Wilson between that initial meeting and the story going public.
James Moore, everyone! He thanks Brodie for showing up on such short notice, and re-reads the section of the Lynch report that deals with Brodie’s lockup loose-lipsedness. Has Brodie deliberately tried to help or hinder Obama’s campaign? Clinton’s campaign? McCain’s campaign? Romney’s campaign? No, no, no, and (pause for internal ‘really? Romney?’) no. But what about Ron Paul? WHAT OF RON PAUL?
I’m sorry. I may be getting a tiny bit punchy.
Anyway, Brodie says that he handled the document as secret, even though it wasn’t classified as such, and it was eventually shredded. Pulverized, in fact.
An interesting question from Moore: Who does the research on possible incoming presidential candidates? Brodie suggests Foreign Affairs, although it’s possible PCO may also have a role. Pretty much all the consulates were involved in trying to track the campaign, he notes.
Finally, Moore notes that, when the story first broke, there were calls for Wilson to be fired; does the government still have confidence in him? Yes, it does, is the upshot.
Charlie Angus points out that he’s not here just to discuss the report as it pertains to his activities, but about the whole series of unfortunate events that led to the leak of the memo. Brodie shows a pleasant but distinct lack of interest in the other aspects of the report, and then pauses for a surprisingly long period of time – like, five seconds – when asked if he met with the Obama campaign whie in the US. “No,” he finally says.
In my head, Ian Brodie always has a Scottish accent, but sadly, it remains a product of my imagination.
Brodie gets distinctly uncomfortable when Angus quizzes him on the conversation between he and Wilson that ABC says took place; first, he says he didn’t speak to Wilson about the issue at all, but then backs off from the categorical denial to allow that Wilson may have been “in the room” when a conversation took place. How big was this room?
Angus is getting frustrated. Did Brodie even try to find out the person “close to the Prime Minister” who, according to ABC, confirmed that it was the Obama campaign that told Canadian officials not to worry about NAFTA. That could be anyone in Ottawa, Brodie begins, somewhat offhandedly. Wrong tack to take with Angus, who points out that at this point, the memo hadn’t been leaked.
Ooh, now it’s heating up. On the identity of One and Two, Bains wants to know whether he spoke with either Keith Fountain or Daniel (sic) Reid about the NAFTA memo. After a long, long, long pause, Brodie says no. (These are both former – and possibly future – Conservative candidates currently working at PMO. Well, Keith Fountain and Darrel – not Daniel – Reid, but I presume that was a typo in the question notes.)
Mario Silva has more questions about the lockup, and it just sort of wends and weaves. Finally, the chair gives the floor to Meille Faille for the final round. Really? That’s it?
She has a few questions for him on the timeline, and Brodie seems a little bemused by where exactly she’s going with that. He consults his copy of the timeline – worth its weight in gold, that is (and if Ron Paul has his way, that won’t just be a metaphor anymore), but Faille wonders how his briefing notes could have failed to mention the NAFTA controversy. He also downplays the very wide distribution list, and the chair adjourns the meeting. Really, just like that. “Have a good summer, everybody,” she chirps. But how can we do that with so many plots left to resolve? This is the worst season finale ever!