‘All of this screams’ of political interference: Wilson-Raybould to Wernick in SNC-Lavalin tape
Jody Wilson-Raybould warned former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick repeatedly during a December 2018 phone call about the perception of political interference if she overrode the federal prosecutor to offer SNC-Lavalin a deal to avoid criminal trial.
She also raises further questions about whether her replacement has decided to cut a deal with the Montreal firm by stating that she when she accepted her new role as minister of veterans affairs, she also decided to “immediately resign” if Attorney General David Lametti made the decision to offer SNC-Lavalin a deal.
Released on Friday afternoon, the audio recording is of a phone call previously described by the former attorney general as having taken place on Dec. 19, 2018, and as being the one in which she said Wernick, the country’s top civil servant, made “veiled threats” against her over her refusal to offer a deal to the firm.
It corroborates virtually all details of Wilson-Raybould’s explosive four-hour testimony on the SNC-Lavalin affair on Feb. 27, 2019, and shows the former attorney general told Wernick repeatedly the conversations both he and other senior political staff were having with her were “wrong.”
WATCH BELOW (Feb. 27): Wilson-Raybould reads transcript of remarkable conversation with her chief of staff
“Michael, I have to say, including this conversation, previous conversations I’ve had with the PM and people around him are entirely inappropriate. It is political interference,” Wilson-Raybould tells Wernick during the 17-minute phone call, released as part of a package of additional material submitted by her to the House of Commons justice committee after Liberal members there blocked attempts by the opposition to invite her back to testify a second time.
“It can’t be politically motivated. All of this screams of that.”
Wernick, who is the country’s top civil servant, denied making threats to her during his second appearance at the justice committee earlier this month.
But his defence of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quickly came under fire from the opposition parties, who described him as overly partisan and called for his resignation.
Wernick announced last week he had decided to retire early. He’s expected to step down on April 19.
In the recording, Wernick can be heard telling Wilson-Raybould again and again that Trudeau was in a “mood” and that “I think the way he sees it and the advice he’s getting is you still have things you can do that are entirely lawful.”
WATCH BELOW: Michael Wernick on SNC-Lavalin case says ‘I made no threats’
Wernick continued, telling her that “He’s in a pretty firm frame of mind about this so I’m a bit worried.”
“A bit worried about what?” Wilson-Raybould asks.
“It’s not a good idea for the PM and his attorney general to be at loggerheads,” Wernick responds, adding that Trudeau “doesn’t have the power to do what he wants, all the tools are in your hands.”
Wilson-Raybould responded by telling him, “I’m having thoughts of the Saturday Night Massacre here.”
She acknowledged in her submission that recording Wernick was wrong but that she made the decision to do so out of concerns the conversation would follow the pattern of those she says she had previously and also be inappropriate.
In her submission package, Wilson-Raybould also offered new information on her level of concern that her replacement, Attorney General David Lametti, might offer the same deal she had refused to intervene in the case to help SNC-Lavalin secure.
Under the terms of the waivers of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality, she has consistently maintained that she cannot discuss what ultimately led to her resignation from cabinet after she made the decision to accept the role of minister of veterans affairs.
“I did make another decision at this time — that I would immediately resign if the new Attorney General decided to issue a directive in the SNC-Lavalin matter as this would confirm my suspicions as to the reason for the shuffle for me in particular,” she wrote.
That decision, she said, was made while she was still attorney general and so is included in her submission.
WATCH BELOW: What was being asked of Jody Wilson-Raybould over SNC-Lavalin was ‘unprecedented’
Opposition critics were quick to argue the material also showed she had in fact raised concerns about political interference over and over again with political officials, which contradicts assertions by both Wernick and Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Trudeau, that she never raised concerns.
In a statement on Friday, the Prime Minister’s Office said Wernick did not brief Trudeau on his conversation with Wilson-Raybould, and they were unaware of the “full contents” of the recording until Friday.
The statement referenced “an erosion of trust” between Wilson-Raybould, the PMO and Wernick, and said Trudeau would have liked to have spoken directly with the former attorney general about the SNC-Lavalin issue.
“He wishes that she had come to him,” Trudeau’s spokesman said, adding that steps are being taken to address the issues raised by the case.
“All the facts are on the table now, and everyone involved has shared their perspective, including the prime minister. We are focused on moving forward as a team on the issues that matter to Canadians and governing in the best interests of the country.”
WATCH: Trudeau says Liberal caucus is ‘strong and united’
In her testimony before the committee, Wilson-Raybould had described as a “consistent and sustained effort” by senior officials within government, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to pressure her into intervening in the SNC-Lavalin criminal case.
Her testimony was prompted by a Globe and Mail report, outlining allegations of pressure on her that was published on Feb. 7, 2019.
Trudeau initially called the report “false” but later defended what he described as discussions about potential job losses if SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal engineering giant, were forced to face trial and potential conviction on the corruption and fraud charges against it.
He brushed off questions about the veracity of the original report on Feb. 11 by saying that Wilson-Raybould’s continued presence in cabinet “speaks for itself.”
But on Feb. 12, Wilson-Raybould resigned from his cabinet.
“I resigned the next day and I trust my resignation also speaks for itself,” she wrote in her submission.
She had been shuffled out of the attorney general portfolio the month previously and into the role of minister of veterans affairs.
She told the justice committee in her testimony last month that she believed the move was because of her refusal to take the unprecedented — but legal — step of overruling the director of public prosecutions.
WATCH BELOW: Justice committee releases private phone call between Wilson-Raybould and Wernick on SNC case
Kathleen Roussel, the director, had decided to proceed with criminal charges despite heavy lobbing from the company for a new legal tool called a remediation or deferred prosecution agreement.
Such a tool was created after lobbying by the company last year and would let a firm facing a reasonable chance of conviction admit wrongdoing and pay a fine.
Conviction in court could carry a 10-year ban on bidding for federal contracts.
WATCH BELOW (Feb. 27): Wilson-Raybould says she was pressured to “help out” in SNC case
–With a file from Kerri Breen
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