Politics

Chris Woodcock, ex-PMO aide, says he didn't know Wright repaid Duffy's expenses

Mike Duffy's lawyer battled it out in court today with a former senior staffer in the Prime Minister's Office over his insistence that he never a read a line in an email from Nigel Wright that said he had personally repaid the senator's expenses.

Mike Duffy trial into final week of 3rd phase, will resume in mid-November

Ex-PMO staffer Chris Woodcock and Mike Duffy's lawyer leave the Ottawa Courthouse after Woodcock's first day of testimony. 1:08

Mike Duffy's lawyer battled it out in court today with a former senior staffer in the Prime Minister's Office over his insistence that he never a read a line in an email from Nigel Wright that said he had personally repaid the senator's expenses.

The claim by Chris Woodcock, a former director of issues management, was similar to one recently made by Stephen Harper's campaign team. They said Ray Novak, Harper's current chief of staff, also never read an email sent to him by Wright on March 22, 2013, saying he had paid for Duffy.

"Your claim is just like Ray Novak's," Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne said. "'Gee, I got the email. It's only to me. But golly I never read it.'"

"That's the truth sir," said Woodcock.

"That's what you keep saying. I'm just going to examine it, sir." Bayne said.

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, Stephen Harper's right-hand man at the time. 

It was a long and testy exchange between Bayne and Woodcock, each taking turns sniping at each other over an email Wright sent to Woodcock on Mar. 8, 2013. The last line of the email read: "For you only 'I am personally covering Duffy's $90K.'"

Woodcock testified that at the time, he didn't see that part of the email, and only saw it in late June 2013. He said he was quite "surprised" when he saw that part of the email. 

Woodcock, who had said he received 700 to 1,000 emails a day, told Bayne that, "I won't pretend that you can comprehend what a day-to-day work life is like when you receive 50 emails in a particular meeting."

"No, I'm sure I can't comprehend that," Bayne said.

But Bayne pointed out that Woodcock had said he prioritized his emails, the email was from his boss, and only contained seven lines.

It's not just short, Bayne said, "it's crystal clear."

Chris Woodcock, former director of issues management in the prime minister's office, leaves the Ottawa Courthouse after testifying at the fraud trial of Mike Duffy on Monday. (Lorian Belanger/CBC)

"It's crystal clear when two years later you have the benefit of two years to prepare reading all the emails and scanning," Woodcock said. "In the moment sir, when receiving many emails, dealing with many issues, this was not the only topic that I dealt with over that time frame. As I said before, I just simply didn't see the line."

Woodcock said the email did not appear the same way it was shown in court as it did on his BlackBerry. He said had he seen the line, it would have helped him do his job over the next couple of months.

But Bayne also grilled Woodcock over other emails in February 2013 that had been sent to him from Wright, which talked about the party repaying Duffy's expenses. M​embers of the PMO, including Wright, wanted Duffy to agree to a deal in which he would admit he had made an unintentional mistake and say that he would repay the expenses, at the time thought to be $32,000.​ In turn, the Conservative party fund would cover Duffy's costs. Wright had testified that Harper didn't know about this deal.

Bayne hammered Woodcock over why, as issues manager, he never raised this issue with Harper as it was his job, as Woodcock himself described, to take care of anything that might ruin the prime ministers' day. 

"You're adopting a position that this is written in hieroglyphics sir. This is written in English. And you read English, right?" Bayne asked.

"Sir, I think frankly you don't need to insult me," Woodcock replied.

Woodcock said he didn't believe the issue of the party planning to cover Duffy's expenses was pertinent to his work at the time, and that he was more focussed on media lines.

Earlier, Crown prosecutor Jason Neubauer asked Woodcock if he unilaterally scripted lines for Duffy and imposed them on him.

Woodcock said he did not and that developing the media lines was a collaborative effort.

"It was very much a two-way relationship," he said.

The trial, which began April 7 in the Ontario Court of Justice, is into the final week of its third phase. It will continue until Aug. 28 and, with more time needed, break until it would resume again in mid-November.

With files from The Canadian Press

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