Watch above: Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications discusses the gravity of the RCMP court filings and explains what he understands the prime minister knew about Senator Mike Duffy’s repayment.
OTTAWA —Prime Minister Stephen Harper had “a right to know” about the scheme cooked up in his office that saw an attempted interference with an independent audit, a whitewashing of a Senate report into Mike Duffy’s expenses and the prime minister’s former chief of staff handing the embattled senator $90,000 to pay back housing expenses, Harper’s spokesman said Sunday.
“Obviously he had a right to now,” Jason MacDonald said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark. “He had a right to know and he should have known and had he known he would have put a stop to it.”
Emails contained in court documents made public last week suggest some of Harper’s staff, alongside Conservative leadership in the Senate, helped manipulate the upper chamber’s internal economy committee and its report into Duffy’s contested living expenses. The emails suggest officials, including Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein, also tried to influence an independent audit commissioned by the Senate.
“The prime minister obviously understands that these are serious issues, and that the things contained in the document are very serious,” MacDonald said when asked whether Harper is upset at the fact members of his inner circle were involved in the attempted coverup. “But now what we have is a situation where the RCMP is investigating two people, pursuing, it looks like from the document, pursuing criminal charges.”
The document also alleges an “agreement” between Duffy’s lawyer, Janice Payne, and the PMO, as set out by demands and conditions Duffy made through his lawyer before agreeing to pay back more than $90,000 in expenses.
That money, it was later revealed, came from Wright, who is now officially under RCMP investigation along with Duffy for bribery, frauds on the government and breach of trust.
None of the allegations have been proven and no charges have been laid.
Harper has vehemently denied ever knowing Duffy’s payment was made with funds other than his own.
WATCH ABOVE: It’s a fascinating and at times disturbing glimpse into the inner workings of the Prime Minister’s Office. Breaking down the RCMP documents.
The RCMP documents, however, contain a Feb. 22 email from Wright to others in the Prime Minister’s Office about an agreement for the Conservative party to repay Duffy’s allowances. In it, Wright said he wanted to run things past the prime minister “before everything is considered final.”
Less than an hour later, Wright wrote back: “We are good to go from the PM …”
Exactly what Wright received approval for is something opposition parties are still trying to hammer out.
MacDonald, however, said the prime minister neither approved of nor knew anything about the Conservative party’s plan—let alone Wright’s eventual decision to use his own money.
The RCMP say there is no evidence to support a belief the prime minister knew about Wright’s cheque to Duffy prior to the information being revealed in news reports, but the opposition parties have focused on a few key elements of the documents that have raised a red flag.
On May 14, 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.”
Exactly what those “broad terms” entail remains a lingering question Harper has yet to address.
MacDonald maintains the prime minister’s line he knew nothing of any part of the scheme.
“The prime minister had no knowledge about this and he’s actually been very, very clear that he had no knowledge of any discussions with the party, with the Conservative fund or that Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy had agreed to have Mr. Wright cut a personal cheque to Mr. Duffy,” MacDonald said.
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