Nigel Wright wrapped up his six days of testimony today saying he didn't believe allowing Senator Mike Duffy to claim he had paid back his questionable expenses, when Wright had in fact covered them, amounted to "bad misrepresentation." But the prime minister's former chief of staff also said it did not meet the highest standards of transparency and clarity that Canadians deserved.
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Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne has consistently questioned Wright about writing the $90,000 cheque for Duffy's expenses, and allowing the senator to state publicly that he himself had paid them back. The cheque was written in 2013, at the time Wright was serving as Stephen Harper's right-hand man.
"You didn't think that was a misrepresentation to Canadians?" Bayne asked Wright.
But Wright repeated his previous testimony — that he wanted people to understand Duffy had repaid the expenses, and he didn't attach much significance to who paid them off. Wright has insisted that what he thought was most important was to have the expenses repaid.
Bayne again asked Wright if he didn't think that was a misrepresentation.
"I don't know if I'd go that far," Wright said. "I just didn't think it was a bad misrepresentation."
Later, Bayne referred to a May 2013 statement that had been scripted for Duffy to say that he himself had paid back the expenses. The statement included the line: "Canadians deserve nothing but the highest standards of transparency and clarity."
Bayne asked Wright if he was meeting the high standards of transparency, clarity and integrity by allowing Canadians to believe Duffy had repaid the expenses.
"I don't think it meets the high standards of transparency and clarity," Wright said. "I thought there was integrity to it."
Bayne also referred to an email sent by Wright in which he said that "the PM knows in broad terms only that I personally assisted Duffy when I was getting him to repay the expenses."
Bayne pointed out that Wright had already testified that his only personal involvement was the provision of the $90,000 cheque to repay Duffy's expenses. He asked Wright how else he had personally assisted Duffy other than paying the $90,000.
"What I meant by that, the PM knew that I was personally involved in the Duffy matter," Wright said. "Speaking with Senator Duffy. Working on the [media] lines."
"'Personally here meant personally involved or engaged in the file," Wright said.
Bayne suggested Wright was being inconsistent with his testimony because the only personal action he took was to write the cheque.
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.
Wright's testimony Wednesday marked the 42nd day of Duffy's judge-only trial, which resumed last Wednesday after breaking on June 18. It was the second hiatus of the high-profile trial, which began April 7 in the Ontario Court of Justice in Ottawa. This third phase will continue until Aug. 28, and, with more time assuredly needed, break until it would resume again in mid-November.
Cross-examination focuses on emails
Bayne has focused much of his questioning on a series of emails related to the political fallout of Duffy's questionable expenses.
Bayne has painstakingly gone through emails related to a scheme in 2013 cooked up by the Prime Minister's Office to have the Canadian public believe that Duffy himself had paid back his expenses. Bayne had argued that Wright forced Duffy to accept the deal.
On redirect, Crown prosecutor Jason Neubauer pushed back on the notion that Duffy had been forced, asking Wright whether the senator had been represented by counsel and if he felt Duffy was acting of his own free will.
Yes, Wright responded.
"Was he ever threatened?" Neubauer asked.
Wright said: "I certainly never intended to."
Did Wright ever see an indication of mental incapacity?, Neubauer asked.
No, said Wright.
On Thursday, Benjamin Perrin, a former legal adviser to the PMO is expected to testify. Court heard this week that Perrin had told the RCMP that he believed Harper's current chief of staff, Ray Novak, was part of a conference call in March 2013. During that call, Wright's plan to personally repay Duffy's questionable expenses was discussed.
But Perrin's interview with the RCMP, a transcript of which was read out at the Duffy trial on Tuesday, seems to be at odds with what Wright and the Harper campaign have said about Novak's knowledge regarding the $90,000 cheque.
Wright testified on Tuesday that Novak was not part of the call and that had "popped in and out." A Conservative Party campaign spokesman has said Novak was on the first part of that conference call, but didn't hear discussion of Wright's cheque.
The Conservatives maintain Novak learned about Wright's cheque when it became public knowledge in May 2013. Harper has been peppered with questions about Novak on the campaign trail. But he has insisted he did not know about Wright's actions, and has repeatedly said that the two individuals responsible — Duffy and Wright — are being held accountable.
On Wednesday, at an event in London, Ont., Harper was again asked about the issue, the revelation in court of Perrin's statement to the RCMP and why Novak was still part of the campaign.
"I am not going to cherry-pick facts that are in dispute," Harper said. "The fact of the matter is I have held those who are responsible accountable."