The Prime Minister’s Office is arguing that former chief of staff Nigel Wright offered misleading information in a memo that he personally edited to update Stephen Harper on the Senate scandal last March.
The Conservatives are increasingly isolating Mr. Wright as one of only two people who engaged in alleged wrongdoing as part of efforts to contain the controversy over Senate expenses this year, along with Senator Mike Duffy. Court records released on Wednesday show the pair are the targets of an RCMP investigation into allegations of bribery, breach of trust and fraud.
In a statement to The Globe and Mail on Friday, the PMO said a memo signed by Mr. Wright on March 22 misleadingly referred to Mr. Duffy as being set to repay his expenses, even though Mr. Wright had already decided to use his funds to do so.
“The document clearly shows that the Prime Minister was not being given the facts about the arrangement between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy. In fact, on page three, the memo suggests that Mr. Duffy would be repaying his expenses himself,” PMO director of communications Jason MacDonald said. “Had the Prime Minister been aware of the scheme that resulted in Mr. Wright cutting a cheque for Mr. Duffy’s expenses, he would have put a stop to it.”
Mr. Wright told a PMO colleague in an e-mail on March 8 that he would use his personal funds to cover Mr. Duffy’s ill-claimed expenses. The transaction was concluded on March 25 when Mr. Wright sent a $90,000 bank draft to Mr. Duffy’s lawyer, according to documents filed in court.
Three days earlier, on March 22, Mr. Wright and other senior PMO officials prepared a written note to the Prime Minister to detail the government’s response to the controversy, according to a classified document included in the RCMP application for bank records and Senate e-mails.
The 31/2-page memo stated the PMO had “worked to resolve the Senator Duffy issue through his repayment” of the expenses, even though Mr. Wright had already decided to use his own funds to pay off the amount.
The court records show the memo was also edited, from an earlier draft, to remove references to secret attempts to persuade auditors at Deloitte to drop their investigation into Mr. Duffy in exchange for the reimbursement of his expenses.
“We hope to have a final disposition of that matter soon,” the memo stated.
The memo was signed by Mr. Wright as well as three other senior PMO officials: Joanne McNamara, Chris Woodcock and Patrick Rogers.
RCMP records show that Mr. Woodcock was aware that Mr. Wright was paying for Mr. Duffy’s expenses at the time of the memo.
Mr. Wright issued a statement through his lawyers this week, stating: “My intention was always to secure repayment of funds owed to taxpayers. I acted within the scope of my duties and remain confident that my actions were lawful.”
Mr. Harper insisted all week that he only learned on May 15 that Mr. Wright had reimbursed Mr. Duffy’s expenses. Mr. Wright left his position four days after a report on this matter by CTV News.
However, the opposition is arguing other parts of the RCMP court records strongly suggest that Mr. Harper was informed by Mr. Wright of details of the deal. In a key e-mail dated Feb. 22, Mr. Wright told other PMO officials that he had received Mr. Harper’s green light to proceed with a deal that would have seen Mr. Duffy’s expenses – estimated at $32,000 at the time – reimbursed by the Conservative fund.
“We are good to go from the PM,” Mr. Wright said.
However, Mr. Harper argued this week that the RCMP records show that he was never told the truth by Mr. Wright and was not informed of the details of the deal.
None of the allegations in the RCMP records have been proven in court, and no charges have been laid.