The Mounties have approached the nerve centre of the Harper government – the Prime Minister’s Office – in their probe of the Mike Duffy-Nigel Wright affair.
The PMO, in turn, said on Wednesday it has asked past and present staff to help in what ever way they can.“We encouraged all current and former staff to assist the RCMP,” a senior official said.
The Liberal Party, meanwhile, announced that two government bodies that could have an interest in the matter are pleading ignorance. Both the Privy Council Office – the bureaucratic agency that serves the PMO – and the Justice Department said they had “no relevant documents” in response to access-to-information requests from the Liberals.
A senior government official in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed on Wednesday that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have asked for information in their probe of the $90,000 gift former Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright gave to the PEI senator. “The RCMP has contacted us and we’re assisting with their investigation.”
Mr. Wright resigned from the PMO in May after it was revealed he tried to tamp down controversy over living expenses Mr. Duffy had claimed improperly by footing the bill to repay them.
Liberal MP Marc Garneau alleged on Wednesday that Mr. Wright quit when the government “finally realized they could not defend what may constitute criminal activity.”
“The very fact the police need to visit the PMO demonstrates that the Conservatives have been anything but clear and transparent and that they have certainly not released all relevant information.”
The RCMP has been investigating Mr. Duffy since March and the probe has widened to include the $90,000.
Mr. Harper’s central defence – that the aide told no one of the arrangement – has eroded in the face of RCMP evidence that three others in the PMO knew about it.
A sworn RCMP affidavit made public in early July revealed that the Conservative Party was planning to repay Mr. Duffy’s expenses before it realized how much it would cost. The RCMP filed the documents on June 24 as part of its investigation into whether Mr. Duffy committed fraud and breach of trust.
RCMP investigators say in the affidavit that lawyers for Mr. Wright said three members of the PMO were told about the payment.
“Mr. Wright recalls that he told the following people that he would personally provide funds to repay Duffy’s ... expenses,” the affidavit says.
They include Chris Woodcock, director of issues management – who handles hot political files – legal adviser Benjamin Perrin, and David van Hemmen, Mr. Wright’s executive assistant. These three owed their jobs to Mr. Wright, who as chief of staff made decisions regarding senior staff.
The PMO on Wednesday tried again to redirect the focus to Mr. Wright.
“This file was handled by Nigel Wright and he has taken sole responsibility,” said Julie Vaux, press secretary for the Prime Minister’s Office.