Brian's Song: Day Three

Andrew Coyne on Mulroney's testimony: "The morning session produced two of the saddest hours I've ever witnessed"

Brian's Song: Day ThreeA bit of a grab bag yesterday. The morning session dealt exclusively with Mulroney’s 1996 testimony. It was, I think, intended to establish that Wolson was dealing with a slippery witness, whose answers should be parsed carefully (see below).

The afternoon focused on showing the many, many contacts Mulroney had with Schreiber over the years, notwithstanding his claims to barely know him.

Some time was also given over to showing that close friends of Mulroney were pushing, and profiting from, the Bear Head contract, in some cases invoking his name in support. Is it likely that Fred Doucet, his close confidant and loyal footsoldier, would have been freelancing when he told Lowell Murray Mulroney wanted the Bear Head project moved along?

Last, he presented evidence, particularly the Tellier letter, to cast doubt on Mulroney’s story that at the time he took the cash in 93-94 he still thought Schreiber was a legitimate businessman.

What was he up to? We’ll know in time. Either he was wandering all over the map, or he was laying down markers for further questioning. There may well be some method in it: his job is to find out whether a witness is telling the truth, or telling a story. By jumping around, he makes it harder for someone who’s not telling the truth to keep their story straight. Whereas someone who is telling the truth never has any difficulty.

Anyway, his job in cross-ex is not to provide the media with dramatic moments. His job is to find out what happened. That’s an incremental process. Still, the morning session, in particular, produced two of the saddest hours I have ever witnessed in all the time I’ve been writing about politics.

Here was a former prime minister of Canada trying, with a straight face, in front of a judge, to maintain that when he said that he’d had a cup of coffee, once or twice, with Schreiber, without mentioning the cash payments, that he was fully and accurately describing his relationship with him after he left office.

There’s a reason why, as a witness, you swear an oath to tell, not just “the truth,” but “the whole truth.” That is, you can’t mislead the court by selectively omitting pertinent facts. That’s an obligation on any witness. It’s especially required of a former prime minister, and a member of the bar — both of whose ethical codes require him to act at all times in a manner that would withstand the highest scrutiny. That is, not to hide within the letter of the law or hairsplitting evasions, but to act in a wholly ethical fashion.

So Mulroney’s position is not just that he was acting legally, but ethically. To buttress his case, he also claims that he “would have” provided the full story if the government had accepted his offer, before the letter of request became public knowledge, to meet with his lawyers.

In other words, Mulroney wants us to believe two things: that he was justified in telling a highly selective truth, and that he was willing to tell the whole truth. Neither stands up to examination.

His “justification” — I was fighting for my life, the government had nine lawyers etc — is simply that had he told the whole truth, it might have hurt his case: that if he’d told the court about the cash he was taking from Schreiber, it might have made it harder to sue the government for accusing him of taking bribes from Schreiber. But that’s not a justification. It’s a motive.

It isn’t just that Mulroney didn’t tell the whole truth. He didn’t even tell a partial truth: ie. I met him for a cup of coffee, once or twice, full stop. Because, as Wolson pointed out, he then went on his testimony to describe in some detail the nature of their conversation, including that Schreiber had hired Lalonde to represent him. And he concludes with “that was it.” So this was a partial truth, masquerading as the whole truth. The clear impression was that he had given a full description of what went on at their meetings.

As for Mulroney’s pledge that he “would have” told them the whole truth, of what value is that? He says he’d have told his interrogators about the cash if they’d asked: but there was no way anyone else could have known about it. He says he would have given the police all of his documents — his bank accounts, and his income tax returns, the works. But the bank accounts would have had no record of the payments, since he kept them all in cash. And he didn’t declare it on his income tax until 1999. There are no documents anywhere that show any trace of the payments. So his retroactive hypothetical promise that he “would have” come clean is a crock.

Then there’s the business of the cash itself, and why he kept it in cash. Wolson only touched on this, but we saw Mulroney’s modus operandi again: when he’s cornered, when he can’t deny, or forget, or dismiss, or otherwise explain away incriminating bits of evidence, when we get right down to the rock bottom fact that he took the cash, he just says it was “a mistake,” an “error of judgment.” One that he repeated three times. That is simply not a plausible statement. Mulroney is a man of the world, in every sense of the phrase. There is simply no reasonable construction of events that can present him as the naive dupe of Schreiber the “international businessman.”

Even Mulroney’s semi-mea culpa was telling. He says that when Schreiber plopped that wad of $1000 bills on the table, “I should have said, could you write me a cheque?” But that’s not what most people would say, in the face of such dubious behaviour. They wouldn’t say, could you write me a cheque. They would say: This meeting is at an end — I’m not doing business with you, ever. They would sense at that moment they were dealing with a shady character. All of their alarm bells would be ringing. That’s even if they knew nothing further about the person. Whereas in fact Mulroney knew plenty about Schreiber. As Wolson began to demonstrate yesterday, and as I suspect we’ll hear more today.

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