Stephen Harper’s office denies that it is withholding from the RCMP an internal e-mail about the $90,000 cheque that the prime minister’s former chief of staff wrote to Senator Mike Duffy.
The Prime Minister’s Office says that contrary to a news report it has not been asked to hand over the electronic missive.
“Our office has not been asked for this e-mail,” Julie Vaux, PMO press secretary, said in a statement.
“As we have always said, we will assist investigations into this matter.”
CTV reported Tuesday evening that RCMP investigators have been trying to obtain the e-mail for months, citing sources who said the PMO has been withholding that information.
The Feb. 20 e-mail reportedly describes a secret deal to have Mr. Harper’s then-chief of staff Nigel Wright personally bail out Mr. Duffy, a Conservative senator who improperly claimed $90,172 in living expenses and was facing the public release of an audit of his spending.
CTV quoted PMO communications director Andrew MacDougall as confirming this e-mail exists.
“My understanding is it is a paraphrase of conversations that happened,” Mr. MacDougall told CTV. “I’ve had them described to me from someone who is no longer here.”
In the e-mail, Mr. Duffy tells his lawyer that Mr. Wright worked out a “scenario” where the senator would take ownership of the improperly-claimed expenses but that they would be covered for him.
Under this deal, Mr. Duffy would claim that he personally repaid his debt to taxpayers and the government would use its influence to blunt the outcome of the external audit.
A Conservative-dominated Senate committee then proceeded to tone down a hard-hitting audit report on Mr. Duffy’s expenses.
Mr. Duffy resigned from the Tory caucus in May after news of the deal broke.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been investigating Mr. Duffy since March and this probe has widened to include Mr. Wright’s $90,172 gift to the PEI senator.
Mr. Harper’s central defence in the Nigel Wright affair – that the aide told no one of his secret $90,000 gift to Senator Mike Duffy – has eroded in the face of RCMP evidence that three others in the Prime Minister’s Office knew of the arrangement.
A sworn RCMP affidavit made public in early July revealed that the Conservative Party was planning to foot the bill for repaying Mr. Duffy’s improperly claimed expenses before it realized how much it would cost. The RCMP filed the documents on June 24 as part of its investigation into whether the Prince Edward Island senator committed fraud and breach of trust.
RCMP investigators say in the affidavit that lawyers for Mr. Wright told three members of the PMO about the payment to Mr. Duffy.
“Mr. Wright recalls that he told the following people that he would personally provide funds to repay Duffy’s ... expenses,” the affidavit says.
These PMO staffers include Chris Woodcock, director of issues management – a job that handles hot political files – as well as legal adviser Benjamin Perrin and David van Hemmen, Mr. Wright’s executive assistant. These three ultimately owed their jobs to Mr. Wright, who as chief of staff would have decided who was hired, promoted or fired in such senior PMO positions.
Senator Irving Gerstein, who controls the Conservative Party’s taxpayer-subsidized war chest, also knew of the arrangement, Mr. Wright’s lawyer told the RCMP.