August 14, 2015 4:01 pm
Updated: August 14, 2015 7:16 pm

The circle around Harper lands in Duffy trial spotlight

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WATCH ABOVE: The evidence in the Mike Duffy trial is moving a lot closer to Stephen Harper and the people around him – not just Nigel Wright. But trusted staff who still work for Harper and are on the campaign trail with him right now. As Mike Le Couteur reports, Wright and others all agreed to a story that wasn’t true and then tried to keep the truth from the public.

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OTTAWA – Conservative Leader Stephen Harper now says the “vast majority” of his staff didn’t know about a plan to fake Mike Duffy’s personal repayment of Senate expenses, changing his position that only a single person was aware.

The focus on Harper’s office and who was involved in negotiating the repayment scheme, is expected to intensify as more witnesses testify in Duffy’s fraud, breach of trust and bribery trial.

In early June 2013, weeks after it was revealed that Harper’s then-chief of staff Nigel Wright repaid the $90,000, Harper emphasized to the House of Commons that it was Wright’s doing.

“Those were his decisions,” Harper said. “They were not communicated to me or to members of my office.”

READ MORE: Novak, Harper’s chief of staff, new focus of attention at Duffy trial

Then-cabinet minister James Moore told the Commons that Wright “acted alone.”

But Justice Charles Vaillancourt has heard testimony from Wright and seen hundreds of emails, that place a half dozen staff and party brass in the know.

WATCH: On the third day of star witness Nigel Wright on the stand, Mike Duffy was painted as the victim of a coverup by the PMO by Duffy’s lawyer Donald Bayne. Laura Stone reports.

One of those told about Wright’s plan to repay was Ray Novak, Harper’s current chief of staff and a senior campaign director. Novak is arguably the closest person in the party or the government to Harper. He’s not just a staff member, but also a friend and confidante.

On Thursday, Harper backed Novak’s claim that he did not read the direct email from Wright – then his boss – and didn’t know about Wright’s payment.

READ MORE: Harper stands by chief of staff during Duffy trial

“We were all told, we were all told that Mr. Duffy had repaid his expenses … that’s not only what the entire caucus thought and I thought, that is what the vast majority of our staff also believed was the case,” Harper told reporters in Hay River, NWT.

The trial is likely to become even more sticky for the Conservative campaign, as two key lawyers are expected to testify on the negotiations inside Harper’s office around repayment of the senator’s expenses.

© 2015 The Canadian Press

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