Thursday, August 13, 2015

Duffy senate scandal: Nigel Wright says PM Harper “good to go” on coverup points

As expected, the now famous words “good to go” were front and centre in the cross examination of state witness Wright by Duffy’s defence counsel yesterday (my underlining):

It gripped a packed courtroom, not because Wright dropped bombshells but because the top insider finally told the story behind one of the biggest mysteries in the capital — what role did Prime Minister Stephen Harper play in what Wright called a “plan” to “force” Duffy to repay housing expenses claimed for his Ottawa home.
 Wright testified Harper had no detailed knowledge of his personal decision to pay for Duffy — which would come later — or of Wright’s initial belief that the Conservative Fund of Canada would pay Duffy’s disputed expenses first pegged at $32,000…

But Wright’s testimony appeared to clear Harper of a role in that. Still, it painted a damning picture of a PMO in full damage-control mode.

Wright detailed a meeting in Harper’s office on Feb. 22, 2013 when the two men spoke alone at the height of Wright’s efforts to stem the bad news. Wright testified he briefed Harper only “in very broad terms” about the conditions he’d agreed to after tough negotiations with Duffy’s lawyer. Wright said he told Harper that Duffy would repay, and the Conservative government would agree to a communications strategy.

Wright said Harper needed to approve the media plan to have Conservative caucus members back Duffy, who would state publicly that his Ottawa housing expense claims were simply “a mistake” — not an abuse of his entitlements. Wright said forcing Duffy to agree to that was a “risk” and set a precedent that could come back to haunt Harper because they did not know how many other Conservative senators and MPs could be caught up in scandal and might be forced to pay back expenses they might legally be entitled to claim.



Wright said Harper agreed.

“His (Harper’s) view was basically that irrespective of (any) kind of legal entitlement, or technical entitlement, the standard we’d hold ourselves to was that claims not only had to comply with the rules . . . they also had to be right and appropriate,” Wright said.

Asked directly what Wright had meant when he wrote other PMO staffers “we are good to go from the PM,” Wright told assistant Crown attorney Jason Neubauer that “good to go means that the points I wanted to raise with the prime minister had been raised and that we could proceed with the plan.”

Note the words: we could proceed with “the plan.”

What was The Plan?

This is how Duffy’s counsel framed the “good to go” issue in his opening address earlier this year:

In his opening statement last April, Bayne said Wright was “good to go” on a plan to “extort’’ a misleading admission of guilt from Duffy. He read a statement Wright gave to RCMP in which he acknowledged Duffy was going to be forced to repay money he might not owe.

What does PM Harper think the words “good to go” mean?

This:

Even before Wright takes the oath, inconsistencies in the Harper narrative have again surfaced.
 What did he mean by three words which have become the shorthand for this affair — “good to go?”

Wright, in a Feb. 22, 2013 email to PMO legal counsel Benjamin Perrin says, “I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final.”

An hour later, Wright sends another email stating: “We are good to go from the PM once Ben has his confirmation from Payne (Duffy’s lawyer).”

Earlier this week, Harper said the “good to go” never came from him.

“The words you are quoting are not my words,’’ Harper told a reporter at an Ottawa campaign stop. “They are somebody else’s. I have said repeatedly, and I think the facts are clear, I did not know about — that Mr. Wright had (given) payment to Mr. Duffy.’’

But in November 2013 NDP leader Tom Mulcair asked Harper in the Commons: “Good to go with what?”
Harper responded: “Good to go with Mr. Duffy repaying his own expenses as he has acknowledged I told him personally as he told everybody he had done, including the Canadian public.”

See also the Huffington Post article on the Good To Go issue.

The Plan and Media Lines:

Back to Wright about The Plan:

He says the email that said they were “good to go from the PM” was in reference to Duffy’s so-called media lines — what he would say publicly about the controversy and his efforts to repay.

OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Good To Go, according to the man who wrote these words, refer to “media lines”.

So, what were the “media lines” that Duffy was to use in describing the solution to his home expenses problem?

They were the script that a senator who had claimed some $90,000 for living expenses he incurred in living in Ottawa, while “residing” in his constituency in his home province, was to use to explain to the Canadian public what the “true” story was about the problem.

This enters the territory of the “scenario of repayment”:

On Wednesday, Wright testified about a "scenario for repayment" in which the PMO would cover Duffy's expenses, the senator would admit to a "possible error" on his expense forms, and the potential scandal would quietly go away.

That “scenario of repayment” included a statement by Duffy that he had personally repaid the expenses, which was not true.

So, The Plan included a senator reading from a script prepared for him by himself and known to, among others, members of the Prime Minister’s Office, that would give Canadian voters and taxpayers a false impression of the true facts, so that the issue could go away.

Reaction of the media:

If I was a senior advisor to PM Harper, I would be running around sounding every alarm bell I could reach, after listening to and watching the reaction of the media on CTV and CBC.

The shock and distaste on the faces of the senior journalists appearing in the news broadcasts of these two channels, as the cross examination of Wright went on its remorseless way, and as they absorbed the tone and contents of the close to 400 pages of emails introduced into court and made public, was something to behold.

Yesterday was the day that Stephen Harper lost the mainstream media because of the detailed steps taken by so many Conservative senators and officers and members of the PMO to cover up the truth of what actually happened in the Duffy case.

That loss is extremely serious, in the middle of a long campaign.

And the same shock and disbelief is apparent in the faces of and behavior of journalists asking Harper questions about the Duffy trial on the campaign trail.

Media Lines and Watergate:

The closest analogy I can think of in north American politics is the roiling of the media as the Watergate saga unfolded on daily television, with stories being muddled, and finally the infamous tapes being disclosed. The Duffy emails are, in my view, similar to the Watergate tapes: they tell a story of the ethics and beliefs of top politicians in Ottawa which is difficult to listen to, hard to accept, and just totally wrong, on so many grounds

Stephen Harper can kiss goodbye his chance to be prime minister when the new year dawns, thanks partly to Good To Go and The Plan.


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