NDP calls on Harper to explain Wright-Duffy 'coverup'
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to explain how his former chief of staff Nigel Wright gave Senator Mike Duffy $90,000 without his knowledge.
Angus and NDP justice critic Françoise Boivin addressed new information contained in court documents released Friday showing that Wright told three other senior employees in the Prime Minister's Office about the $90,000 cheque he gave to Senator Mike Duffy.
The new information is at odds with Harper's assertion in the House of Commons last month that his ex-chief of staff acted alone in giving the money to Duffy so he could repay his ineligible Senate expenses.
"We learn now through the RCMP court documents that time and time again, that Mr. Harper's answers simply don't add up," Angus said at a press conference in Ottawa on Monday.
Angus called on Harper to explain how "a secret coverup including a large payout that was intended to keep potential fraud quiet was allowed to happen on his own watch and in his own office."
The documents reveal that Wright's lawyers told the RCMP that Wright recalled telling three people about his intentions to give Duffy the money: his assistant, David van Hemmen; Harper's legal adviser Benjamin Perrin; and Chris Woodcock, director of issues management in the Prime Minister's Office.
However, PostMedia reported on Sunday that Andrew MacDougall, the prime minister's spokesperson, stated that Woodcock had "informed our office that he was not aware of Mr. Wright's personal cheque being used to reimburse Mr. Duffy until May 15th. The decision to do so was Mr. Wright’s alone."
That statement by MacDougall contradicts the information provided to the RCMP by Wright's lawyers on June 19.
PostMedia later removed the MacDougall quote saying, "a previous version of this story contained incorrect information that was supplied by the Prime Minister’s Office. It has been updated to reflect the latest information made available to Postmedia News."
Contacted about the original quote, MacDougall told CBC's Terry Milewski he "misspoke."
Conservative Party funds
The information revealed in documents filed by the RCMP raises several new questions ranging from how Duffy approached the question of his residency when he was appointed to the Senate, to how many people knew about Wright's $90,000 cheque to the former Conservative senator who is now serving as an Independent.
The documents also reveal that the $90,000 payment came with certain conditions and that Wright only made the decison to cover Duffy's expenses after the Conservative Party was initially willing to pay the $32,000 they believed Duffy owed in ineligible senate expenses.
It is unclear why the chair of the Conservative Fund, Senator Irving Gerstein, thought it was appropriate to use party funds to clear Duffy of the $32,000 they thought he owed, but not $90,000 — the amount he actually owed.
"Now we are looking at the issue of a secret coverup orchestrated out of the Prime Minister's Office with the knowledge of the Conservative Party," Angus said.
While a criminal investigation is now underway, the NDP is still calling for an independent investigation into the deal between Wright and Duffy.
"There are many issues of conflict of interests here, possible breaches of parliamentary ethics that may be beyond the realm of a criminal investigation," Angus said.
Harper repeated on Saturday, that it was Wright's decision, and his alone, to give Duffy $90,000 out of his own pocket to reimburse the Senate.
"It was a decision of Mr. Wright and he will be held accountable for that," Harper said.