A former legal adviser of the Prime Minister's Office wrapped up his testimony today, saying he believed Stephen Harper had directly approved the details of a plan by members of his staff to pay back Mike Duffy's living expenses.
Benjamin Perrin, who is testifying for a second day at the senator's trial in Ottawa, referred to an email in which Harper's then chief of staff Nigel Wright wrote "we are good to go from the PM."
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Members of the PMO, including Wright, had come up with a five-point plan in Feb. 2013 that would see Duffy agree to a deal in which he would admit he had made an unintentional mistake and pledge to repay the expenses, at the time thought to be $32,000.
Part of that plan would see Duffy's expenses covered, though not by the senator himself, and that he would be removed from an audit looking into his questionable claims.
"My understanding from that email is that the prime minister himself had approved of the five points that had been set out by Mr. Wright," Perrin said.
"When Mr. Wright wrote 'good to go' from the prime minister I took that to mean the prime minister himself had directly approved them."
But Wright has previously testified that 'good to go' meant Harper had approved of what he thought was a plan in which Duffy himself would repay the money and admit to mistakes in the claiming of expenses.
The trial, which began April 7 in the Ontario Court of Justice, resumed last week after breaking on June 18, the second hiatus of the high-profile trial. This third phase will continue until Aug. 28, and, with more time assuredly needed, break until it would resume again in mid-November.
Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed in 2013 as a senator and later repaid with money from Wright.
Perrin had also testified that Ray Novak, Harper's chief of staff, was told before and during a 2013 conference call that Wright would personally repay Duffy's expenses, contradicting claims by the Conservative campaign.
Perrin, who worked as a legal affairs and policy adviser to Harper from 2012-13, told court that he, Wright (then Harper's chief of staff) and Novak were all in Wright's office on March 22, 2013, as Wright was about to make a call with Duffy's then lawyer about the issue of the senator's expenses.
Perrin said he was discussing with Wright the issues surrounding an audit into Duffy's expenses when he was surprised to learn from Wright that he would be personally repaying them.
He also said Novak, the prime minister's principal secretary at the time, was present for the entire conference call when Wright told Duffy's lawyer he would pay for Duffy's expenses.
Perrin's testimony contradicts comments from the Conservative campaign, which has denied that Novak had any knowledge of Wright's $90,000 repayment of Duffy's expenses. They said he was initially part of the conference call but left before the cheque was discussed.
Wright also testified that Novak was not there for the entire call and "popped in and out."
The issue has dogged Harper on the campaign trail as he repeatedly faces questions about his staff's knowledge of the cheque repayment.
"Mr. Perrin has admitted that he never told me," Harper said on Friday.
"These were actions undertaken by Mr. Wright, by his own admission," Harper said.
"He is solely responsible for them, he has taken responsibility for them, and he has been held accountable for them and that's what I think people would expect me to do."
On Friday, Perrin also testified about the negotiations he had with Duffy's lawyer Janyce Payne, over the five-point plan.
He said he was frustrated by the Duffy file, saying he was not privy to discussions between Wright and Duffy or discussions that were occurring on the party level. Nor did he know about Wright's plan to personally pay back Duffy's expenses until that Mar 2013 conference call.
"As counsel in the matter I was clearly left in the dark, Perrin said. "My client was not informing me about his discussions with the counter-client. So this is not a proper way to conduct a legal matters.
"This was a situation I certainly felt blindsided by"
During the end of his cross-examination, Bayne zeroed in on the nature of the bribery charge itself, asking Perrin whether he saw anything improper or illegal about the five-point plan.
"You sir would never be encouraging [Duffy] or convincing him to do a course of action if you believed it to be illegal," Bayne said.
"Absolutely not," Perrin said.
"And you believed that repaying this was lawful, right?" Bayne asked
Yes, Perrin replied.