OTTAWA – Nigel Wright’s aggressive cross-examination at the Mike Duffy trial ended Wednesday with questions of his integrity and accusations the defence was pushing a certain political agenda.
For five days, Wright has faced a barrage of questions spurred by volumes of emails detailing the backroom talks he and other senior staff in the Prime Minister’s Office had in 2013 concerning Mike Duffy’s contentious and politically damaging expense claims.
Why did he decide to use his own money to repay Duffy’s expenses? Did the prime minister know of the plan? Why were Wright and others in PMO soliciting confidential information from an outside, independent auditor? Why was this all done without telling the public?
Wright said he wanted to ensure Duffy led the public to believe he’d repaid the claims using his own funds, rather than Wright’s —but he “wouldn’t go so far” as to call it a misrepresentation, and he definitely didn’t think it was “a bad misrepresentation,” he told the court on Wednesday morning.
The former chief of staff to Stephen Harper has maintained he had nothing but the best interests of Duffy and the public in mind while he was arranging for Duffy to repay, finding out whether the independent auditor the Senate hired would change its course on a report into Duffy and helping to script the senator’s public statements.
What he wanted, above all else, was for the expenses to be repaid and for Duffy to stop claiming them going forward.
“Yes,” Wright said.
Even when journalists began specifically asking what Wright’s role was in the repayment, media lines stated Duffy had repaid the claims.
“Is that the highest standard of transparency, clarity and integrity Canadians can expect of Parliament?” Bayne asked.
“It’s not the highest standard of transparency or clarity,” Wright said.
Wright’s name has become inextricably linked with Duffy’s case since it was revealed that, while serving as the prime minister’s chief of staff, he used personal funds to cover $90,000 of the senator’s dubious expense claims.
Almost immediately, though, questions started swirling around others in the PMO as well as the prime minister himself —who else knew?
WATCH: Stephen Harper’s trusted aide Ray Novak knew of Mike Duffy payment scheme, court hears
That question yesterday zeroed in on Ray Novak, who was promoted to chief of staff in the wake of the scandal and continues to hold that position.
Today, it moved over to Harper, prompting the Crown to interrupt Bayne and cast doubt on the defence’s motivations.
In one email chain, the prime minister’s media team asks whether Harper would know Duffy’s repayment came from Wright’s personal funds.
“The PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy when I was getting him to agree to repay the expenses,” Wright wrote back.
Wednesday morning, Wright told the court the only “personal” decision he made during the months spent stick handling the Duffy affair was to pass his money to Duffy; every other decision was made in his capacity as chief of staff, he said.
But he meant something else when he wrote in May 2013 of his “personal assistance,” he said.
It was then the Crown interrupted.
“With the greatest of respect … this seems to be politically motivated, as opposed to relevant to anything in this trial,” Mike Holmes said. “Mr. Duffy and Mr. Bayne might have a motivation, but I don’t think the court should be a party to it.”
The Crown is expected to call a new witness to the stand Thursday morning.