CALGARY – The Prime Minister’s Office says the Conservative party paid Senator Mike Duffy’s legal fees on the assurance they were related to the audit of his expenses.
“The party pays legal fees from time to time for caucus members in good standing,” Jason MacDonald, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s spokesman, wrote in an email.
“The party was assured the invoice was for valid legal fees related to the audit process, and the party paid them on the basis of those assurances.”
The remarks about the so-called second cheque for Duffy – $13,560 from Conservative party lawyer Arthur Hamilton – come as the Conservative senator in charge of the party’s fundraising arm said it was Nigel Wright who requested the party pay for Duffy’s legal fees.
In a speech at the closing ceremonies of the Conservative convention Saturday, Senator Irving Gerstein said he told Wright the Conservative Fund of Canada wouldn’t pay for Duffy’s “disputed” expenses.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had strong words for his MPs during the Conservative convention.
Ottawa bureau chief Jacques Borbeau reports.
“I made it absolutely clear to Nigel Wright that the Conservative Fund (of) Canada would not pay for Senator Duffy’s disputed expenses, and it never did,” Gerstein said, to huge applause.
“At the request of Nigel Wright, the fund did agree to pay legal fees limited to a maximum of $12,000 plus HST, because at the time Senator Duffy was a member of the Conservative caucus and as you know the funds sometimes assist caucus members with their legal expenses as do other parties.”
Wright eventually stepped in and paid for Duffy’s expenses, although the embattled senator revealed last week that Wright also arranged to have his $13,560 in legal fees covered.
The RCMP has alleged in court documents that the Conservative party was initially willing to pay for $32,000 in Duffy’s expenses from the Conservative fund controlled by Gerstein, but backed off went the tab rose to $90,000.
Wright’s lawyer said he has “no comment at this time to this latest characterization of events.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he was not aware of the deal between his former chief of staff, Wright, and Duffy, and believed he paid the money back himself.
Conservative MP John Duncan, the party’s whip, said Gerstein’s comments were supposed to be a “revelation.”
“It was meant to go right to the heart of some of the doubt that’s been placed in people’s minds,” said Duncan.
“Nobody wants to say anything that isn’t absolutely correct, because everybody knows there’s potential consequences to saying anything that isn’t absolutely correct.”
Duncan said he had many dealings with Wright in the two-and-a-half years he worked for Harper.
“It’s completely out of character for Nigel to have done what he did. This is what puzzled all of us, especially the prime minister,” he said.
“Nigel is not the kind of person that would be pressured by others. Nigel would do it out of a sense of caring. I think he cared very much about Mike Duffy and allowed that to colour his judgment.”
Harper told his party faithful on Friday night that he expects people to be responsible for their actions and vowed to do the “right thing” on Senate reform.