Mike Duffy trial: 7 things we learned from Nigel Wright's testimony

After six days in the witness box, including five under intense cross-examination, Nigel Wright has wrapped up his testimony, answering a number of questions that had been hanging since he left the Prime Minister's Office and his role as Stephen Harper's chief of staff in May 2013.
Judge Charles Vaillancourt portrayed Duffy as an unwilling partner in a scheme to accept a $90,000 cheque from Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright to cover questionable expenses, even though they were likely legitimate. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

After six days in the witness box, including five under intense cross-examination, Nigel Wright wrapped up his testimony on Wednesday, answering a number of questions that had been outstanding since he left the Prime Minister's Office and his role as Stephen Harper's chief of staff in May 2013.

Here are seven things we learned from Wright's testimony in an Ottawa courtroom:

1. Explanation of 'good to go'

An email from Wright to members of the PMO that contained the sentence "we are good to go from the PM" had raised a number of questions regarding the prime minister's involvement in the deal with Duffy.

Members of the PMO, including Wright, had cooked up a plan 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. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party fund would secretly cover Duffy's expenses. (That plan eventually fell through when it was learned Duffy owed $90,000).

'Good to go', Wright said, 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. 

Which leads to ...

2. Wright backed up Harper's claims he didn't know about cheque

Harper has consistently denied that he knew of the plan to use the Conservative fund to pay back Duffy's expenses or that Wright eventually paid them off with a personal cheque. Wright backed up those claims in court, saying he wouldn't typically inform Harper about the involvement of the Conservative fund in payment for these kinds of issues. 

Asked point blank by Crown prosecutor Jason Neubauer about whether he told Harper of his intention to personally pay the $90,000, Wright responded: "No."

3. Wright says he didn't lie to Harper

Wright testified that he told Harper that Duffy was going to repay the expenses when, at the time, Wright knew the plan initially was to have the Conservative party fund cover the claims. 

"I don't think I lied to the prime minister," Wright said. "I don't feel it was lie. I just felt it wasn't on my list of things I needed to check with him."

Wright added that he didn't think the distinction between Duffy paying and the Conservative party fund paying was that significant. What was important was that the expenses were paid back, he said.

4. Wright says he had an 'obligation' to pay Duffy

Before the trial, Wright's only public statement about why he personally paid Duffy's expenses was that his actions "were intended solely to secure the repayment of funds, which I considered to be in the public interest."

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. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

But Wright expanded on that explanation in court. Wright said when the plan to have the Conservative party fund cover Duffy's expenses fell through, he felt he had an "obligation to fulfil my end of the arrangement" with Duffy. He said Duffy had already committed to acknowledging that unintentional mistakes had been made regarding the expenses, on the understanding he, Duffy, would have expenses covered.

5. What did Ray Novak know?

An email on Mar. 22, 2013 revealed that Ray Novak, Harper's current chief of staff, was to be part of a conference call — a call in which Wright's cheque was discussed. And in an email the next day that was also sent to Novak,  Wright wrote: "I will send my cheque on Monday."

Emails entered into the Duffy trial suggest Novak knew about Wright's plan to personally pay off the senator's expenses. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Meanwhile, court heard that Benjamin Perrin, a former PMO lawyer, had told the RCMP that Novak was part of that conference call and did know about Wright's plan to personally cover Duffy's expenses.

But Wright testified that Novak was not part of the call, and had just "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. As for Wright's 'I will send my cheque' email', the campaign has claimed that Novak never read it. The Conservatives maintain Novak learned about Wright's cheque when it became public knowledge in May 2013.

6. Wright and Novak were in contact two weeks ago

In court, Wright told Duffy's lawyer that he had last spoken to Novak in May or June. But when pressed on when he last communicated with Novak, Wright said it was about two weeks ago.

He said it was through BlackBerry messages for "a minute or two." It was never revealed what was discussed and Wright said he had no record of the communication.

7. Wright denies meddling in Deloitte audit

In the one email, Wright said he wanted Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein to "work through senior contacts at Deloitte," an outside auditing firm looking into the residency and expense claims of senators.

But Wright said in court he was just hoping to get Gerstein together with Senator David Tkachuk —  the chair of the Senate steering committee that had asked for the audit — along with members of Deloitte, to "close the loop."

Wright said he wanted Deloitte to be aware of a proposal by Tkachuk which would see Deloitte drop the review into Duffy, since Duffy had agreed to repay his expenses.


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