Stephen Harper says no other staff member in his Prime Minister's Office acted unethically in the Mike Duffy affair other than his former chief of staff Nigel Wright.
In an interview aired Monday evening with CBC's Peter Mansbridge, the Conservative Leader was asked about the behaviour of a large number of staff in the PMO beyond Mr. Wright who were copied on e-mails in relation to managing the political fallout of Mr. Duffy's expenses controversy.
The senator is facing 31 criminal charges, including fraud, breach of trust and bribery. The defence has argued the payment was part of a scheme created by senior staff in the PMO that was aimed at deceiving the public and influencing an independent audit in order to make a controversy go away. But Mr. Harper argued the only unethical act was Mr. Wright's decision to secretly give Mr. Duffy $90,000 so that the senator would pay back his expenses.
"There's no person on my staff that I believe deceived me or acted unethically or irresponsibly … other than Mr. Wright," Mr. Harper said.
"Many of the people … that you're saying knew, say clearly they didn't know. And I think in fact the bulk of the evidence is on their side," he said.
This summer the court heard conflicting testimony from members of the PMO as to whether Mr. Harper's current chief of staff, Ray Novak, was made aware that Mr. Wright was the source of the payment.
Evidence shows Mr. Wright sent e-mails to Mr. Novak and to then-director of issues management in the PMO, Chris Woodcock, that reveal Mr. Wright was the source of the money. However, both Mr. Novak and Mr. Woodcock have said they did not read the e-mails.
The Conservative Leader described feelings of anger upon learning in the media that it was Mr. Wright, and not Mr. Duffy, who was the source of the repayment.
"I went through a period where I was very angry," he said. "But you've just gotta let that anger go." You have to move on. We dealt with the situation. The two people responsible have been held accountable. The taxpayers have been repaid. And … people are being held responsible for the actions."
The public record shows the Conservatives initially defended Mr. Wright's payment to Mr. Duffy as "exceptionally honourable" after it was first revealed by CTV News on May 14, 2013.
A PMO spokesperson said on May 17 of that year that the Prime Minister had "full confidence" in Mr. Wright. Two days later, Mr. Wright announced his resignation. In October of that year, Mr. Harper changed the story, stating that Mr. Wright was fired.