'Strains credulity' to think Harper unaware during Senate scandal, Duffy's lawyer says
Published Sunday, April 24, 2016 11:09AM EDT
It “strains credulity” to think former prime minister Stephen Harper was unaware that his inner circle was working to cover up Sen. Mike Duffy’s controversial $90,000 payment, Duffy’s lawyer says.
In the wake of Duffy’s resounding acquittal last week, which included multiple scathing critiques of the former Prime Minister’s Office, Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne, sat down with CTV’s Question Period for a candid one-on-one interview.
The conversation touched on Duffy’s life, his ongoing health problems, and whether Bayne thinks former chief-of-staff Nigel Wright should face criminal charges.
Duffy was cleared on all 31 criminal charges, including fraud and bribery, on Thursday, with Justice Charles Vaillancourt describing Duffy in his 308-page ruling as a credible witness.
But the judge questioned the credibility of Harper’s office over steps taken to cover up Duffy’s repayment, which involved Wright giving Duffy a personal cheque for $90,000 to cover the senator’s expenses.
“Could Hollywood match such creativity?” wrote the judge, who called the scenario “damage control at its finest.”
Did Harper know?
Harper has repeatedly asserted that he did not know about any plans for anyone but Duffy to pay back the controversial housing and living expenses.
In an interview that aired on Sunday, Question Period host Robert Fife asked Bayne, a seasoned lawyer with more than 40 years of experience, if he believed that Harper knew nothing. Bayne replied: “Do I personally believe that? Having seen that? For what it’s worth -- and I’m a biased observer now -- no,” he said. “It strains credulity.”
Bayne said he was prepared to cross-examine the then-prime minister, if he was called to court.
“I never knew if the former prime minister was going to be a witness in this case, and so I did prepare a cross-examination for him. And it would have referred to a number of the materials that I have,” he said.
Senators were ‘whipped’
The trial was a major political story during the 2015 election, with widespread national interest. But Bayne said he never anticipated the case would “turn into this.”
“In fact, when I took it on, I got the emails and I thought I could put an end to this. I never thought there was a case here,” he said.
Early on, Bayne held a press conference (something he says he “almost never” does) in hopes of quashing the mounting scandal with a pointed message:
“This first cut on this -- the sensationalistic take of a corrupt Mike Duffy -- isn’t the true story here. And it’s not just me saying that; it’s emails and documentary evidence,” he said. “That’s what the judge found at the end of the day.”
Bayne said he thought senators would have had “better judgment” than to rush to judge Duffy after the scandal broke. (He pointed to Sen. John Wallace and Sen. Hugh Segal as two senators who didn’t jump to conclusions.)
“But for the most part, the great majority were stampeded -- maybe “whipped” is the word. I don’t know.”
Should Wright face charges?
Bayne carefully measured his words when asked whether he thought Nigel Wright should face criminal charges.
“It’s hard not to come to that conclusion when you read the judge’s findings,” he said.
Asked the question a second time, Bayne replied: “They’ve already made their decision about and arrangements with Mr. Wright. And they did that long ago.”
Bayne brought up one of the judge’s sharpest indictments of Wright from the ruling.
“As I recall, the Crown characterized Mr. Duffy, Sen. Duffy, in a certain way – corrupt, conniving, deceitful, manipulative, fraudulent, and this bribery scenario. And [the judge] said, in effect, that only applies accurately if you replace Mr. Duffy’s name with Mr. Wright’s and the PMO.”
Duffy should get back-pay
Duffy was suspended from the Senate three years ago without pay. Bayne says Duffy’s salary over that time should now be paid back.
“Absolutely, they should give it back to him. They were wrong, the judge told them they were wrong. There’s a presumption of innocence in this county, and that’s a severe punishment,” he said.
“It’s one thing to suspend with pay, pending the outcome of something. It’s another thing to suspend without pay, which is a presumption of guilt. “
When asked whether the Senate should pay for Duffy’s legal fees, Bayne replied: “They’re not going to do that, Bob.”
It’s 'past time' to clear Wallin
Duffy’s trial may be over, but several other senators still face charges related to involvement in the senate. Retired senator Mac Harb and Sen. Patrick Brazeau both face fraud and breach of trust charges and are expected to stand trial.
But Sen. Pamela Wallin’s case regarding travel expenses remains in limbo. Nothing has happened since the RCMP handed over its investigation to Crown prosecutors last year, and she’s never been charged.
Bayne says that it’s “absolutely” time for officials to announce that Wallin won’t be prosecuted and clear her name.
“It’s past time. And maybe there are people getting ready to do that now. My own feeling is they were waiting for this judgment. That RCMP investigation on Ms. Wallin was done a long time ago,” he said.
Praise for Duffy, concerns for his health
Bayne offered praise for Duffy, whom he described as a “humble and chastened man” from the moment they met. He said Duffy remained quiet when the ruling was read and was likely caught up in emotions after years of public scrutiny.
“He and his wife have gone through a very difficult time, a difficult time emotionally,” he said.
He also said that Duffy has been “medically ill” and that “there are serious things going on with him.”
“He’s tried to keep a brave face through it. It’s like when he walked away from the courthouse yesterday: he didn’t say a word. Part of me worries for him, health-wise,” he said.
Asked if there was any takeaway lesson from the trial, Bayne pointed to the judge’s call for more oversight and transparency in Senate expenses.
“When the judge was saying … there should be much greater probity over these relationships with services providers, and he, I gather, was looking at Mike Duffy and Mike Duffy nodded at him and said ‘I get it,’” he said.
“And that was a message to all senators, because clearly every senator had that degree of discretion over who he or she hired and when they travelled and where. There will be, one hopes, greater probity.”