We have entered the realm of the surreal: Mulroney doing Mulroney. That is, performing for the commission his testimony in deposition for his 1996 libel trial, with his lawyer Guy Pratte, taking the part of Claude-Armand Sheppard, the government’s lawyer in 1996.
The effort is to explain why his testimony to that event was not, in fact, misleading, or was not intended as such, even if it had that effect. On this deconstructionist analysis:
– It’s not relevant to a libel suit related to accusations of taking bribes from Schreiber whether he took cash from Schreiber.
– He gave a full and accurate account of his meetings with Schreiber, including the coffee shop meeting in the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth hotel, that did not mention $75,000 cash drops.
– He was volunteering all relevant information when he said he had no bank accounts outside the country but did not mention the safety deposit box at the Chemical Bank in NYC.
– He was wholly truthful when he said he did not know anyone in Strauss’s family, when he did not mention meeting Max Strauss.
– And when he said he “had never had any dealings” with Schreiber, that should be understood to mean he had never had any dealings to do with Airbus. That is, it should be understood in a context of discussiions about Airbus, but not in a context of multiple cash payments totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Old friends who never met
Just going over the last time Mulroney testified — well, I was going to say under oath, but this time he really was: at his 1996 deposition prior to his libel suit against the government of Canada. The testimony is notable for the number of things the former prime minister did not know or could not recall:
– He had “no specific recollection” of his first meeting with Schreiber, though he could say it was “in a business context” (he told the ethics committee it was “through the political process”)
– He didn’t remember whether it was in Alberta or Quebec
– He had “no idea” whether he was a political contributor
– He did not know of any relationship between Schreiber and Airbus (”not at all”) nor did he know of any commission sales agreement between them (”never”).
– He did not know that Schreiber was a friend of Franz Josef Strauss, although he said he read it later.
Talking of Strauss, what Mulroney did not know about Schreiber paled in comparison to what he did not know about Strauss. “I did not know Strauss myself,” Mulroney said, “nor did I know any of his family.” Mind you, “I knew of Franz Josef Strauss,” but “I didn’t know him personally. I never met him.”
What did he know of him, then? Well, not that he was chairman of Airbus, that’s for certain (”no idea”), although he knew that he was premier of Bavaria, and had been minister of Finance in the Federal Republic of Germany.
But met him? Never. Didn’t know him. Nor any of his family. What are we to make, then, of this recollection of happier times from Pat MacAdam, Mulroney’s longtime aide, in a recent newspaper column?
I remember the first time Karlheinz and Brian Mulroney met in 1984. The office of Brian’s longtime secretary, Ginette Pilotte, was on one side of Mulroney’s office and mine was the other bookend. We were the “gatekeepers.”
Max Strauss, the son of Bavarian premier Franz Josef Strauss, paid a courtesy visit. Brian and the senior Strauss were old friends. Karlheinz Schreiber, who was unexpected, accompanied Max.
Emphasis added. Could Pat’s memory be playing tricks on him? Getting on a bit, isn’t he? Except here he is saying the same thing on CBC Television in the fall of 1999.
“I met him [Schreiber] when he used to call on Mulroney. He was looking after the Franz Josef Strauss interests. The father, Franz Josef, was a good friend of Mulroney’s in years gone by. The son used to call on him as a courtesy call. I was the gatekeeper then, and kept the appointments, and he’d come in with Max Strauss … oh, maybe five, six, seven times a year.”
Good friends? Six or seven times a year? How could MacAdam be so mistaken? Or has he not had time to read Mulroney’s testimony?
It depends on what the meaning of the words “bank account” is
The 1996 Mulroney, for example, was greatly indignant at the suggestion that he had a Swiss bank account. Over and over he repeated:
I don’t have a bank account in Switzerland. I don’t have a bank account in any foreign country in the world. I never have.
After his ethics committee appearance, that absolute, unequivocal denial should carry this asterisk: *Except for a safety deposit box in New York City, where I kept $75,000 in cash.
The 1996 Mulroney was equally outraged that the RCMP, before approaching the Swiss authorities, had not first interviewed him. Had they done so, he said, he would have given them his full cooperation, in a way that would have put their concerns to rest. Over and over, he repeated: he would have answered all their questions, opened his books, given them everything they needed.
Would you like to examine my documents? Would you like to examine my bank accounts?
I had to file my income tax returns like everybody else. He could have had my income tax returns.
Anything that you need from me, from bank accounts to … to tax returns to whatever, I will give everything I have.
At the time, Mulroney would have known, though his listeners did not, not only that he had been paid a large sum of cash by Karlheinz Schreiber, but that neither his bank accounts nor his tax returns showed it. By his own admission, he had never deposited the money in any account (or not the kind that keeps records — see above), nor did he report the money on his taxes until 1999.
The letter of request was to gain access to Schreiber’s Swiss bank accounts. The money Mulroney was paid was drawn from one of those accounts. Had the police accepted Mulroney’s offer of “cooperation,” they would have known nothing of this.
All this, on top of his well-known — and spectacular — evasions with regard to his relationship with Schreiber. “We would have a cup of coffee, I think, once or twice… I think I had one in the Queen Elizabeth hotel with him… I had never had any dealings with him.”
What is perhaps less well known is this exchange, at the very end of the first day, in which Mulroney describes that “cup of coffee” at the Queen Elizabeth.
Q. But the.., so I… perhaps I misunderstood. When you talked about having coffee with Mr. Schreiber at the Queen Elizabeth, it was in the period subsequent to November nineteen ninety-five (1995)?
A. No. No, it was after I left office in nineteen ninety-three (1993), and that’s when he told me, as I indicated to you, that, that he was dismayed that my Government had not allowed him to proceed with his desire to build this Thyssen Project. And that’s when he told me that he had hired Marc Lalonde to represent him, because he figured that Mr. Lalonde could prevail upon Mr. Chrétien and the Government to have this done in the East end of Montreal. Which, by the way, had they been able to do it, I… I… I thought it was a good project, and so I wouldn’t have been critical of anything.
He told me he hired Mr. Lalonde to do that, he told me he was contemplating legal action against my Government, that he had hired a prominent law firm in Ottawa, I think Ian Scott’s law firm, very distinguished lawyer, to take action against the, the bureaucrats in my Government who, he alleged, had frustrated the fact that he was never able to get a deal through. This deal. That was the kind of conversation we had.
A. He expressed the hope that Mr. Lalonde would be successful in persuading the new Liberal Government to agree to conditions that would enable him to proceed with the project. That was it.
Emphasis added. That was it. Not: And then he pulled out an envelope stuffed with $75,000 in cash and handed it to me. Not: This was in December 1993, the second of three such meetings in which Schreiber handed over envelopes full of cash to me. Not: But why am I talking about Lalonde? Schreiber hired me to represent the same project overseas.
Clintonian is hardly the word.
UPDATE: I see, on review, that I have titled the first post “Old friends who never met.” This is a vile calumny on the former prime minister, and I withdraw it unreservedly. It should in fact have read “Old friends who had never met.”