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Nigel Wright testifies at the Mike Duffy trial on Aug. 17.

Nigel Wright testifies at the Mike Duffy trial on Aug. 17.


For six days, while his old boss was running in a tight federal election campaign, the Prime Minister's former chief of staff offered some even hotter political drama in his testimony at Senator Mike Duffy's criminal trial. Here's how Nigel Wright's testimony unfolded.

Mr. Wright, 52, was a star Bay Street deal maker and managing director at private-equity firm Onex Corp. before joining the Prime Minister's Office in 2011. As chief of staff, he was for years a figure barely on the public's radar – until 2013, when it emerged that he had given Senator Mike Duffy a $90,000 cheque to repay questionable expense claims. He resigned in May, 2013, though months later, Prime Minister Stephen Harper instead said he was "dismissed." Mr. Wright was investigated by the RCMP, but not charged.


Questioned by the prosecution, Mr. Wright described the "scenario for repayment" the Conservatives devised to quash the expenses scandal, and how he ended up repaying Mr. Duffy himself when the party – which had believed Mr. Duffy owed only $32,000 – balked at the actual $90,000 figure. Mr. Wright said he didn't tell his boss, the Prime Minister, about the plan or that he paid Mr. Duffy.

The court also saw Mr. Wright's e-mail records, which offered a rare glimpse at how senior Conservative staffers discussed the unfolding Senate scandal in 2013.

Key points from the Nigel Wright e-mails



In his cross-examination, Mr. Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, tried to make a case that Mr. Wright forced Mr. Duffy to accept the deal so the government could avoid a Mulroney-like political crisis. He confronted Mr. Wright with transcripts of his interviews with the RCMP and an interview between police and Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton. Mr. Wright acknowledged saying to the Mounties that Mr. Duffy "probably didn't owe" the money and was "basically forced" to take it, but Mr. Wright disputed Mr. Bayne's interpretation of those words. Mr. Wright said he had believed Mr. Duffy might have used the Senate's expenses rules to make a case against repayment, but "I don't think I ever concluded definitively that he did not legally owe the money back." Instead, Mr. Wright said, Mr. Duffy was asked to repay the money on a moral basis. In court, Mr. Wright also appealed to Scripture to defend his own decision to keep secret the fact that he paid Mr. Duffy.

Donald Bayne arrives at the Ottawa courthouse on Aug. 17.

Donald Bayne arrives at the Ottawa courthouse on Aug. 17.



On Friday, Mr. Bayne hammered Mr. Wright over e-mails with Prime Minister's Office staff showing the PMO tried to willfully deceive the public about where Mr. Duffy got the money to repay his expense claims. The e-mails also shed light on the PMO's behind-the-scenes frustration with the Conservatives' Senate leadership, and how the PMO believed their plans to quietly settle the Duffy scandal were jeopardized by the public release of a letter between the Conservative and Liberal Senate leaders calling for a crackdown on senators' questionable housing expenses. Mr. Wright challenged Mr. Bayne's characterization that the PMO had been controlling the Tory presence in the Senate.


Mr. Wright acknowledged that he didn't tell Mr. Harper about who would really be paying Mr. Duffy's expense claims, but said he didn't think it was important for the Prime Minister to know as long as the money was repaid. Later, he offered another explanation for the decision: That it was better for the government's reputation if people believed Mr. Duffy was repaying the expense claims with his own money.


Conservative Leader Stephen Harper talks to his chief of staff, Ray Novak, in North Vancouver on Aug. 12.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper talks to his chief of staff, Ray Novak, in North Vancouver on Aug. 12.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The focus shifted from Mr. Wright to Ray Novak, Mr. Harper's current chief of staff. Mr. Bayne read excerpts from a statement given by Ben Perrin, the PMO's former legal counsel, to the RCMP, in which Mr. Perrin said Mr. Novak knew about Mr. Wright's decision to pay Mr. Duffy's $90,000 bill, and that Mr. Novak was present at a meeting where the payment was discussed. That contradicts claims by Mr. Novak and Mr. Harper's campaign spokesman, Kory Teneycke, that Mr. Novak learned of the payment at the same time Mr. Harper did, a discrepancy that raises political questions for the Conservative Leader's campaign. Mr. Wright also testified that he had stayed in touch with Mr. Novak after leaving the PMO, and the two were in contact two weeks ago.


On his final day of testimony, Mr. Wright conceded that he oversaw the drafting of statements about Mr. Duffy's expenses that misrepresented the facts, but "I just didn't think it was a bad misrepresentation." Meanwhile, Crown prosecutor Mark Holmes alleged that some of Mr. Bayne's cross-examination of Mr. Wright had been "politically motivated" and not relevant to the Duffy case, but Judge Charles Vaillancourt allowed Mr. Bayne to proceed. With Mr. Wright out of the witness box, Mr. Perrin, the former PMO legal counsel, was set to testify on Thursday.

With reports from Steven Chase and Campbell Clark