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What went down Feb. 22, 2013?

Harper approved plan to compel Duffy to repay expenses: PMO


 

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 that 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.

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 that 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 nothing wrong. In exchange, the party would repay him for the outlay, Duffy would be spared any further questions about whether Ottawa or PEI 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 that 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 that 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 that 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.

Wright’s lawyer did not immediately respond to an email asking for reaction to MacDonald’s comments, but Wright issued a statement last week saying he acted within the scope of his duties and is confident his actions were lawful.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair told reporters Sunday that MacDonald was “talking nonsense” when he said Harper did not know about the Duffy deal with PMO.

“Of course everything points to Stephen Harper knowing full well what’s going on his office,” said Mulcair. “He’s a control freak and it’s simply not credible that every single senior member of his staff was involved in this but somehow he knew nothing of it.”

When it comes to another point of controversy, the fact the PMO was deeply involved in shaping a Senate report on Duffy’s expenses, Harper’s office says it’s not concerned. Emails show that pressure was brought to bear by PMO staff, later carried out by key senators, to remove criticism of Duffy from the report and even stop the audit.

The internal economy committee has been traditionally viewed as one of the most non-partisan bodies in the upper chamber, and some — including the Senate clerk — bristled at the interference.

“On the broader point of working with senators, senators are caucus members and the prime minister works with caucus members on government issues, whether it’s policy issues, whether it’s communications issues, and so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for people from our office to be working for senators…” said MacDonald.

“We know what’s now in the RCMP document and at the end of the day the Senate itself had said that they believed they acted independently and came to an independent conclusion.”

—With files from William Campbell


 

What went down Feb. 22, 2013?

  1. “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.”

    I tend to believe this version. In all the places I worked when you go see the “boss” for a decision you always present the different COAs for him/her to decides on.

  2. It is sad. i actually believe Jason MacDonald is a pretty good actor. (If you recall, he is the one that told us that Nigel had the full support of the Stephen Harper one day after the Prime Minister has (clearly, very clearly) told us that Wright was dismissed.

    I would like to submit that although this current performance is unbelievable, it is really the writers’ fault rather than Jason’s performance. If Harper wants to be clear, very clear with the Canadian public through a proxy, he really needs to pony up for some decent writers to make up facts that are consistent with things the public already knows.

    • Maybe some writers that don’t suffer from short term memory loss.

    • There is something so optically wrong when the PM is mugging and grandstanding in a toque at Grey Cup in Regina while a relatively new staffer makes the TV and radio rounds to spin corruption and criminal behaviour on his behalf. Why harper isn’t doing a sit-down with Peter Mansbridge to clear this mess himself is beyond me.

    • Honestly though, this is what, the third season? And they were running this plot-line early in the first. Viewers seem to like it, so why would they risk changing things, now?

  3. Time to step aside #Pinocchio,
    you’ve turned into a joke without an ounce of credibility left and in contempt of Parliament.
    Whole country knows you’re caught in a lie.
    Your party is going to have to cut cancer soon if you don’t resign.
    This is the truth, not buying Harpers nonsense.

    The PM knows plan in broad strokes…let me do a final check with the PM…we are good to go from the PM ~ N.Wright #cdnpoli

    Game over Harper.

    • The PC where found in contempt previously, did not learn their lessons.

      Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Will the public be fooled trice?

      • Actually, Harper was found in contempt twice, so what’s the expression for “Fool me three times….”?

  4. Harper is either an moron, for not having a clue about what was going on under his nose, or a liar, claiming to know nothing when of course he obviously did, or he’s both. There are no other options.

    • “Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

      – George Costanza

  5. A] It’s amusing to think of more then a dozen staff members walking around with their fingers crossed behind their backs every time the question of Duffy came up within earshot of the PM for lord knows how long?
    B] Nigel finally got to find out why Harper keeps a jam jar full of bus tickets on his desk.

    And that lie about Wright seeking Harper’s permission in order for Duffy to repay falsely claimed expenses…that is going to come to haunt Harper. It was monumentally complacent and stupid for such an accomplished liar.

    • :” It was monumentally complacent and stupid for such an accomplished liar.”

      Well I would just suggest this:

      “Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

      – George Costanza

  6. It’s getting close to home when he has to get his lackey to blanket the airwaves with the next layer of hide-and-seek goo. Or maybe not – perhaps Jason McDonald is the current Nigel-rogue, coming up with this current story without telling his boss, knowing that Stephen prefers not to access any news media on Sundays.

  7. On several items the press is being convinced to go along with PM/PMO spin which is NOT in the RCMP documents as they overly focus on what the PM knew and gave the fo ahead to.

    Mike Duffy DID repay the expenses from his own pocket – and then was reimbursed. This was carefully and systematically arranged. There are also valid questions that this too was how Wright was to be handled. There were several negotiation steps taken to ensure that it was Duffy who paid including putting the Wright funds into trust until after Duffy had made the payment. Deception, yes, but it was all arranged by the whole crew (and part of what PM said “good to go” to whether with complete knowledge or with culpable ignorance).

    The whole bunch INCLUDING THE PM granted that the expenses might be allowable but just didn’t like the optics. This too is stated multiple times.

    The whole bunch (not just Wright) agreed to “make him whole” ie. repay expenses and legal fees. Wright was on the hook for determining how. He had no choice but to find a way and would likely have preferred a generous third party to himself. The PMO and those agreeing were part of the commitment not just Wright.

    • What we don’t know yet is – did the money come from Wright or through Wright.

  8. New rules , War is peace, freedom is slavery , ignorance is strength and let me be clear !

  9. Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Colandra are not the Prime Minister, they can spout off all they want. Until Stephan Harper steps up and starts answering questions truthfully, all we can ascertain is that his Hidden Agenda is alive and growing. The Canadian public is clearly, crystal clearly, and lets be perfectly clear tired of the conservatives gong show. Harper the OZ lion needs to buy some courage and step up.

  10. It is “perfectly clear” to all Canadians that organizations that only use scripted “talking points” to get through the day are definitely hiding something. This also speaks to the total lack moral character.

    Yes, Harper directly controls all public communications from the RCMP (implemented in 2011 by Harper), including Corporal Greg. Horton’s latest brief, However, unlike his seals, staffers & senators the RCMP have spines. The detailed documents & timeline are extremely condemning of Harper & underlings, but the investigation is just starting.

    The “talking points” used by Harper – that the RCMP are only investigating 2 people, and the report clears Harper of any involvement or knowledge are hogwash. Harper may have directed that this be the case, but that is not what the report says.

    Everything right now is condemning but incomplete. Build the gallows but let’s wait for Horton’s next report before commencing the lynching

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