Watch the video above: Embattled Senator Mike Duffy spoke out in the Red Chamber again on Monday, saying he received not one, but two cheques from the Conservatives. Mike Le Couteur reports.
OTTAWA – The contentious $90,000 cheque from the prime minister’s former chief of staff to Senator Mike Duffy wasn’t the only money the beleaguered senator received from the Conservatives, he said Monday, telling his colleagues he was also handed $13,560 from a party lawyer to cover legal fees.
The money came from Conservative party lawyer Arthur Hamilton, Duffy said, but added it was the former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, who arranged the payment.
“Wright told me he would pay the $90,000,” Duffy said in the Senate Monday afternoon. “Not only that, but when I insisted on written guarantees that repaying money I didn’t owe would not be seen by the Senate as a guilty plea, Nigel Wright arranged to have my legal fees paid. That’s right. One cheque from Nigel Wright? No, ladies and gentlemen, there were two cheques.”
Listen below: Audio of Mike Duffy’s explosive statements in the Senate on Monday
None of this would have been arranged if Duffy was actually guilty of improperly collecting housing allowances, he argued.
In Duffy’s version of events, he was told his expense claims were acceptable but then ordered to repay them using a cheque from Wright in order to curb criticism surrounding the growing spending scandal. He was then told to keep quiet about the deal, as the Prime Minister’s Office dictated every step he took and every word he uttered, he says.
Duffy described the entire ordeal as a “nefarious scheme,” in which the PMO has had its hand in every aspect of Duffy’s handling of the spending affair.
Duffy speculated, admitting he had no hard proof, that the $135,000 payment was funded by donations from the “base,” or party supporters.
“It was never about ethics,” Duffy said of the prime minister’s demand the senator pay $90,000 in housing allowances. “It was always about politics, which explains why Arthur Hamilton was busy cutting cheques.”
Below are documents tabled by Senator Duffy including a cheque and emails:
READ MORE: We made a mistake: Conservative senator
Duffy’s remarks came after the prime minister changed his tune on what happened after Wright wrote the $90,000 cheque to cover Duffy’s inappropriate expenses, saying Monday morning Wright was “dismissed” over the matter.
Harper has maintained he had no knowledge of Wright’s payment until it became public through the media.
“I had a chief of staff who made an inappropriate payment to Mr. Duffy—he was dismissed,” Harper said, speaking on a Halifax radio show.
The statement runs contrary to what he has insisted for months, that Wright resigned over the affair.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus accused Harper of misleading and lying to Canadians about the second cheque.
“What we’re dealing with here is a potentially illegal deal to pay off a senator, to have him keep his mouth shut, to whitewash an audit,” said Angus.
He said it clearly wasn’t Wright’s private decision if the Conservative party lawyer was involved.
“We’re at the point now where the prime minister’s very credibility is at risk.”
Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc, meanwhile, said Harper is “not credible” in his assertion that Wright acted alone.
“What this confirms is very senior officials in the Conservative party were involved in paying legal bills. Presumably, from the exchange of emails, it would appear that these legal costs were incurred to negotiate the arrangements that lead to the $90,000 payment,” he said.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party of Canada said sometimes they help caucus members pay legal expenses.
“At the time these legal expenses were incurred and paid, Mike Duffy was a member of the Conservative caucus,” Cory Hann wrote in an email. “The Conservative Party sometimes assists members of caucus with legal expenses.”
“The number of people who knew about this is growing and growing. I think Canadians aren’t going to believe Mr. Harper at all when he pretends this was an isolated incident.”
Duffy’s allegations come after members of the Conservative caucus met behind closed doors early Monday afternoon, as party leadership in the Senate was reportedly toying with the idea of amending the proposed sanctions against three of their colleagues at the heart of the spending scandal.
Claude Carignan, Conservative leader in the Senate, is behind the motions to suspend Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau without pay, benefits or Senate resources for the remainder of the current parliamentary session, scheduled to end in 2015.
During an interview with Radio-Canada yesterday, Carignan said he could consider alternative sanctions.
As of Monday evening, he gave no indication he would offer any amendments to his motions.
His Conservative colleague, Senator Yonah Martin, was expected today to move to shut down debate in order to hold a vote on the motions early this week, but she didn’t. She could still make the move tomorrow.
Carignan’s position on amending the proposed sanctions seemed to echo what Brazeau said the Senate leader privately offered him last week.
On Friday, the fourth day of debating the motions, Brazeau told his colleagues in the chamber that Carignan had offered him a “back room deal.”
The embattled senator, currently facing assault and sexual assault charges, said Carignan offered him a less severe punishment in exchange for standing in the chamber and apologizing to Canadians.
Carignan later cast a different light on the discussion, saying he was merely offering advice to a friend and colleague he wanted to help.
Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who tried last week to have the motion against Wallin thrown out, said Carignan’s potential move to change the proposed sanctions is commendable.
“I give the government leader in the Senate credit for understanding the public mentality and the public angst about due process,” he said on his way into the Monday caucus meeting.
Video: Segal’s comments on Monday
Segal didn’t go so far as to disagree with Harper’s push to suspend the trio of senators without pay.
“I view that as his view as to what an appropriate sanction is,” he said. “The question for me has been process … Most Canadians probably think there should be some sanction, but they want it to happen after due process.”
The lengthy debates have exposed some division among the Conservatives, with at least one MP and two senators speaking out against the motions.
Conservative Senator Don Plett, former president of the Conservative Party of Canada, has said he can’t support the motions as they’re currently written, and disagrees with Harper’a assertion that the details of the spending scandal are crystal clear.
“No, I’m sorry, I unfortunately do not,” Plett said Sunday, when asked whether he held the same opinion as the prime minister.
“If the facts are as clear as they are, then we should have just simply gone ahead with the sanctions and let the RCMP decide whether or not they should investigate … If the facts are clear, we made a mistake sending it to the RCMP.”
Conservative Sen. Marjory LeBreton, however, said she disagrees with Plett’s assertion that suspending members of the upper chamber without pay or benefits offends Conservative values.
“That might be a popular view around Ottawa,” she said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark Sunday. “We’re talking about three senators who abused the public trust. They know what they did was wrong, and they’ve caused great difficulty for the institution of Senate and Parliament.”
Segal even asked the speaker in the Senate to rule the motion against Wallin out of order.
Segal lost his bid, though it remains to be seen what comes of Plett’s appeal for changes.
– With files from Laura Stone