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12 highlights from the Wright-Duffy investigation

Nigel Wright, the prime minister's former chief of staff, is pictured here in Ottawa in November 2010.
Nigel Wright, the prime minister's former chief of staff, is pictured here in Ottawa in November 2010. The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

The RCMP is helping to shine bits of light on the many dark corners of the deal struck between Senator Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s former chief of staff.

As the national police force expands its investigation into Wright, Duffy and the now-infamous $90,000 cheque, documents made public Wednesday reveal more names of people involved in the plan and details about how it was executed.

Here is a list of 12 tidbits and revelations from the documents.

1. Duffy stayed in PEI hotel during the winter months: On Feb. 19, Chris Woodcock, who was then director of issues management in the Prime Minister’s Office, emailed Nigel Wright and others in the PMO. They were discussing proposed media lines and the fact that Senator Duffy stays in a Charlottetown hotel during winter months.

In his email, Woodcock states: “Describing Duffy’s arrangements in Charlottetown as a ‘residence’ may be too cute … I’ll cross that line out.”

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2. Whether the prime minister knew Duffy wasn’t using his own funds: An email chain from Feb. 22 between Wright and Benjamin Perrin, who acted as legal counsel to the prime minister, indicates the prime minister was made aware that Duffy would not use his own funds to repay the questionable allowances.

Wright was emailing about “point three” of Duffy’s conditions for repayment, which read, ” … there will be an arrangement to keep him whole on the repayment.”  This was when the Conservative party was considering repaying the allowances, then thought to amount to about $30,000. Wright said he had the go-ahead on that, but wanted to speak to Prime Minister Stephen Harper before everything was finalized.

“Less than an hour later, Nigel Wright followed up an email stating, ‘We are good to go from the PM …'” the document reads.

3. Wright was incensed: Wright’s executive assistant, David van Hemmen wrote to Wright, telling the chief of staff Duffy had charged taxpayers for meals and per diems, even when eating at his home in Ottawa.

Wright responded, telling van Hemmen: “I am beyond furious. This will all be repaid.”

4. Wright confided in colleagues as questions were raised: On March 8, following a question from media about the possibility that the Conservative party was repaying Duffy’s expenses, Wright wrote to Woodcock telling him there had been discussions, but that the party was not making the payment.

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” … For you only: I am personally covering Duffy’s $90K …” Wright emailed, according to the documents.

5. Senate leadership wanted Duffy to keep quiet: After the money had been repaid and the audit into Duffy’s expenses concluded, then-government leader in the Senate Marjory LeBreton wrote to Wright and others at PMO on April 23: “… My concern is Sen. Duffy. Even though he claims he is careful in what he says and does, the evidence is the opposite! We have to be very careful what we say to him.”

6. Not everybody was comfortable with what was going on: On May 9, Conservative Senator Linda Frum write to Ray Novak, who was then Harper’s deputy chief of staff (he became chief of staff after Wright left).

“I feel compelled to speak out … By protecting our own we are making Marjory [LeBreton] and PM look terrible. Not fair to them. I feel safe in telling you that our caucus would support forced resignations. These are my friends so this is painful to even write. But PM’s reputation – and that of Sen caucus – going down in flames. It’s collective guilt. Not a good approach …”

7. Whether Harper knew Wright gave Duffy money: The RCMP says there is not evidence to support a belief the prime minsiter knew about Wright’s cheque to Duffy prior to the information being revealed in news reports.

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After a report aired, Harper’s then-director of communications, Andrew MacDougall, emailed Wright and others to let them know the media contacted him about Wright possibly having co-signed a loan with Duffy.

Carl Vallee, a press secretary at PMO, responded: “Would the PM know the actual answer to the question?”

Wright writes back: “The PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy when I was getting him to agree to repay the expenses. On the specific matter, I did not co-sign a loan.”

8. Harper’s staff thought Duffy was lying, and they were tired of it: On May 16, Woodcock reaches out to Duffy to ask whether a quote in a news story, in which the senator said Wright had no role in the repayment, was taken out of context.

Duffy replied saying he had no idea Wright was involved until Novak told him.

Novak pipes in with a message to Woodcock: “Yes, we need to discuss this. His lying is really tiresome.”

9. Harper’s staff exerted extreme control: The RCMP investigator attached some emails as supplementary material to the main document. One was a letter PMO staff was drafting to send LeBreton on behalf of the prime minister, another was the memo the staff would send Harper about that letter.

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“The purpose of including these emails and draft documents in this information is that it demonstrates the level of control that some staff within the PMO tried to impose when dealing specifically with the matter of Senators’ residency.”

10. PMO’s involvement in the Senate was uncharacteristic: In an interview with RCMP investigators, a former staff member at LeBreton’s office, Chris Montgomery, said he could not remember another time throughout his seven years at the Senate when representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office actually attended meetings and insisted on working on a Senate report.

11. “PEI-isms” were important to Duffy: On Feb. 21, Duffy’s lawyer, Janice Payne, requested media lines from PMO lawyer Benjamin Perrin. Wright proposed relaying the lines over the phone.

“I don’t like the optics of our sending lines to his lawyer. We could walk him through the support we would provide,” he wrote, according to the RCMP documents.

Staff in PMO exchanged emails discussing a media strategy for Duffy, including talking points, timing and answers to specific questions.

Duffy amended a prepared statement to insert “PEI-isms.”

12. Wright didn’t charge taxpayers for much: In an interview with the RCMP on July 18, Wright told investigators he is “financially comfortable” and since taking his position within the Prime Minister’s Office, he had not filed expenses for anything, including meals, flights, hotels or legal fees.

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“He estimates he (is) out of pocket tens of thousands of dollars, but it is his global view and contribution to public policy that taxpayers not bear the cost of his position if he can legitimately afford to fund it himself,” the RCMP officer wrote.

The RCMP allegations in the court documents have not been proven in court. No charges have been laid.