PM didn't know staff asked Conservative Party to pay Duffy's expenses: spokesperson
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had no idea his staff had asked the Conservative Party to pay Sen. Mike Duffy’s ineligible expenses, his spokesperson said Sunday.
In an interview with CTV’s Question Period, Harper’s director of communications, Jason MacDonald, also said Harper didn’t know PMO staff wanted a Senate report into Duffy’s expenses sanitized, or that the party’s chief fundraiser tried to influence the independent audit of Duffy’s claims.
When asked how such a hands-on prime minister like Harper could have no knowledge of those events, especially when so many of his staffers were communicating about Duffy’s expenses, MacDonald said the answer is in the 80-page sworn RCMP affidavit.
“I think if you look at this document it’s clear that the prime minister wasn’t always presented with the facts that we now know,” he said. “But clearly had the prime minister known he would have done something to stop it.”
MacDonald did not say whether Harper has read the documents, but said he is “aware of what’s in the documents.”
“The RCMP makes very clear who it is they’re actually investigating, who it is they believe may have been involved in what ultimately amounts to criminal activity: that’s Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy. The document also concludes and makes the point that there’s nothing to suggest that the prime minister had any knowledge of, involvement in or gave any direction regarding the cover-up that we now know took place.”
The affidavit, filed earlier this week in an Ottawa court by RCMP Cpl. Greg Horton, sheds more light on the ongoing Senate expenses scandal, specifically the attempts by PMO staff to make Duffy’s politically inconvenient expense problems go away.
In the affidavit, Horton writes that there was "considerable communication" within the PMO regarding a Senate probe of Duffy's expenses. There was also communication between the PMO, Duffy and senators who were on the internal economy committee’s steering group for the audit process.
The affidavit outlines a plan to first have the Conservative Fund cover Duffy’s ineligible expenses when they were believed to amount to about $32,000, which then turned into a plan for the prime minister’s then-chief of staff to personally cover the amount when it ballooned to $90,000.
The document also shows that Sen. Irving Gerstein, the party’s chief fundraiser as chair of the Conservative Fund, used his contacts at Deloitte to glean information of its audit of Duffy’s expenses and to determine if the firm would halt its work if the senator’s expenses were repaid.
On page 71 of the affidavit, Horton says he has “seen no evidence that the Prime Minister was involved in having Senator Duffy’s legal bills paid.”
In his interview with Question Period, MacDonald replied “No, he did not,” to the question of whether Harper knew that his staff were asking senators to sanitize the Senate’s report on Duffy’s expenses.
When asked if he knew that his staff had asked Gerstein to attempt to influence the Deloitte audit, MacDonald replied: “No, and had he known he would have put a stop to that.”
MacDonald replied “Absolutely not” to the question of whether Harper knew his staffers had asked the Conservative Party to pay Duffy’s expenses.
“It was on May 15 that he found out like everybody else that in fact Nigel Wright had cut a cheque to Mr. Duffy and that Mr. Duffy had then not told the Canadian public about the source of those funds,” MacDonald went on. “And the prime minister was in no way aware of the discussions with the Conservative Party, the Conservative fund, or aware of the discussion between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright about that repayment.”
When asked why the prime minister did not address Canadians to lay out the facts once he learned of the Wright-Duffy deal on May 15, MacDonald said Harper “directed his staff to provide whatever assistance was required” to the RCMP.
“This is a question of actually finding the facts,” he said. “And now we’ve got this document that actually lays out all of this information.”
Wright had no comment on the issue when contacted by CTV News on Sunday. However, a former aide to Sen. Pamela Wallin did.
Alison Stodin, a long-time Conservative, contacted CTV News and said she's disillusioned by the party she's supported for decades.
Stodin wrote in an email: "It started in 2006. First Harper tried to put all of the chiefs (of staff) in place who were Harper loyalists. Then they started planting their people in the ministers' offices at director level. Over time the ministers were marginalized and all the staff became Stepford Wives to the PMO."
Later, in a phone call, Stodin further explained herself, stating that "there's nobody inside anymore to stand up and say, 'You can't do that, that's wrong.'"
She said this was "because everybody just follows orders."
After being involved with the different versions of the Conservative party for over 40 years, Stodin said she is now "ashamed by this sort of behaviour."
Meanwhile, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said denials that Harper was aware of all that was happening regarding Duffy’s expenses “lack credibility,” and said the prime minister has “sole responsibility” for the goings-on in his office.
“You think all those people were beavering away on a plan that he knew the broad contours of but perhaps not this detail or that detail, and they were working out the lines of the cover-up and he knew nothing about it?” Mulcair said in a separate interview on Question Period.
“Nobody believes that.”
With a report by CTV News' Daniele Hamamdjian