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Chris Woodcock, former director of issues management in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office, leaves the courthouse in Ottawa on Tuesday. Mr. Woodcock was testifying in the trial of Senator Mike Duffy, who is accused of receiving a bribe and abusing expense claims. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
Chris Woodcock, former director of issues management in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office, leaves the courthouse in Ottawa on Tuesday. Mr. Woodcock was testifying in the trial of Senator Mike Duffy, who is accused of receiving a bribe and abusing expense claims. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Globe editorial

At the Duffy trial, the firemen just keeping bringing more kindling Add to ...

It is unacceptable and unfathomable that a member of the Prime Minister’s Office was seen talking to a sworn witness during a recess at the trial of Mike Duffy in Ottawa this week.

Unacceptable, because Nick Koolsbergen, the director of issues management in the PMO who is currently on leave to work on the Conservative election effort, was allegedly speaking to a witness under oath in a trial that has been politically damaging for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. The perception of irregularity is overwhelming.

Unfathomable, because, well, to put it bluntly, how could anyone have been so stupid. Not only was the witness, Chris Woodcock, under cross-examination, he is also a former PMO staffer. In fact, he was Mr. Koolsbergen’s predecessor as director of issues management. Mr. Koolsbergen should not have gone anywhere near Mr. Woodcock during the latter’s time on the stand.

Mr. Harper has not denied that Mr. Koolsbergen spoke to the witness. When asked directly about it on Tuesday, the Tory Leader said, “These are matters that are before the court, and we don’t interfere with them.” But the perception of prime ministerial interference, the political allegation powering the Duffy trial, is only reinforced by Mr. Koolsbergen’s actions.

On Tuesday, Mr. Harper stuck with his well-worn message that the only person in the PMO who knew about the infamous $90,000 payment that his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, made to Mr. Duffy was Mr. Wright himself.

But Mr. Wright’s testimony, as well as that of fellow PMO alumnus Benjamin Perrin, contradicts Mr. Harper’s assertion. They both testified that Mr. Woodcock and Mr. Harper’s current chief of staff, Ray Novak, were made aware of the deal. Mr. Harper is beginning to appear more and more alone in his insistence otherwise.

Sometimes it is hard to remember that the person on trial is Mr. Duffy, the senator accused of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. So far, the headlines have focused not on the accused but on a PMO that was so irrationally determined to paper over an arguably minor affair involving a senator’s living expenses that it has ended up creating a far bigger scandal.

The precise details of who did what and who knew are still murky; the same goes for questions of moral and legal responsibility. But when it comes to the political “management” of the issue by the PMO, this much is clear: It has been catastrophic. And the firemen keep bringing more kindling.

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