Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Where Do We Go From Here With Duffy-Wright?

Ottawa has been rocked by two days of revelations and accusations skilfully delivered by veteran defence counsel, Don Bayne, and the beleaguered senator Mike Duffy himself.

Bayne fired the opening salvo yesterday contending that his client was pressured, coerced, threatened - basically extorted - into the Duffy-Wright deal and the attached conditions.   Duffy believed he'd done nothing wrong.   He'd cleared the issues of residence and housing allowance with Tory Senate leader, Marjory LeBreton, and with Harper chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

Suddenly Duffy is told he has to cough up 90-grand, money the freewheeling junior senator no longer has.   Remember as the scandal burst into the public domain, Duffy insisted he didn't owe a dime.   Even Harper said that Duffy and Wallin met the statutory residency requirements.   All of that corroborates Duffy's story.

Duffy was worth his considerable weight in campaign contributions and Harper was loathe to see the golden goose spit roasted.   So the deal was made for a dodgy, under-the-table cash handout - which we know happened.   There was a reason it was to be done under-the-table just as there's a reason we have a law prohibiting gifts or loans to senators in connection with their office.  It's called corruption and Nigel Wright, with his two law degrees, almost certainly knew that. If he didn't, PMO chief counsel and Harper's personal legal advisor, Benjamin Perrin could have clarified it.  According to Wright he too was in  on it.

This too corroborates Duffy's tale of woe.  We were never supposed to know anything about this, anything.  It was only because Duffy e-mailed the details to some confidants, one of whom leaked the document to a TV reporter that any of this ever came out.   Duffy didn't intend it to get out.  Wright plainly didn't intend it to ever be made public.  Ditto for the rest of the PMO bosses and the boss of bosses, Harper.

Out it came.   After some initial bungling - okay, lying - Harper stopped trying to rescue his chief of staff and Nigel Wright fell on his sword, resigning in disgrace. But, thanks to Duffy's ill-considered e-mail, it was impossible to confine the scandal to Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright.  The e-mail spoke of conditions and further inducements that were part and parcel of the deal and appeared to spread the web of corruption into senior Tory ranks in the Senate.

A major inducement was that, in exchange for his co-operation and silence, the PMO would see to it that the Senate committee investigating this fiasco would "go easy on" Duffy.   This came in the guise of two top Tory senators, Dave Tkachuk, from the Grant Devine stable, and Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, a former aide to Stephen Joseph Harper.   And it turned out that this pair did in fact launder the Senate report on Duffy, consistent with the claims Duffy made in his e-mail. They say their changes to the report had nothing to do with any direction from the PMO but all we have is their word for it well after the fact.   Given that what happened lines up exactly with what Duffy wrote he'd been promised, it's hard to take those two at face value.

After the cheque was popped in the mail but before the scandal broke, the PMO chief legal counsel and Harper's personal legal advisor, Benjamin Perrin, packed his bags and headed back to his tenured job as a University of British Columbia law professor.   He claims he knew nothing about any of this business but Nigel Wright has fingered Perrin as in on it.   If there was a conspiracy and if there was a crime of corruption that could be very awkward for someone who packs legal credentials.   So, what do we make of this?   Perrin, who has every reason not to be associated with this deal says he had nothing to do with it.   On the other hand the haste and timing of his departure invites skepticism and we also have Nigel Wright, the confessed bagman, saying that Mr. Perrin isn't being - oh, what's the word - forthcoming.  Again, this is behaviour that could well be consistent with the scenario in Duffy's e-mail.

The scandal waned a bit as the summer dragged on but then, in August, the Tory insurgency leaked further e-mails to their pet TV reporter.

Those emails show that Duffy had initially refused to go along with the plan to repay the taxpayer-funded living allowance and other expenses using Wright's money.

The embattled senator was then threatened with the loss of his seat in the upper chamber.

In the emails, Duffy claimed that Tkachuk, who until recently was the chair of the Senate internal economy committee, told him he didn't meet the Senate's residency requirements because he lived in Ottawa.

Tkachuck allegedly told Duffy that, if he went along with Wright's bailout offer, the Senate committee would throw out the residency issue and go easy on him in the audit of his expenses.

I don't know about you but that sounds like a conspiracy between the PMO and at least one senior Tory senator to coerce a sitting senator to partake in an illegal act on pain of losing his seat if he refused to comply.  And then, consistent with Duffy's story, he relented, went along with their plan, the residency problem went away (for a while) and the committee went easy on Duff in the audit of his expenses.

Now there's an old classic, 1915 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada known as Koop v. Smith that stands for the proposition that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, you can assume it's a goddamn duck. The known facts here all align, not just with Duffy's story but with the e-mails that were never intended to see the light of day.   This points to a very real conspiracy reaching beyond the prime minister's office and directly into the Senate, using threats and inducements, to unlawfully coerce a member of the Senate to participate in an illegal transaction.  Wow, that's a mouthful.

Duffy's lawyer, Don Bayne, drew a line in the sand yesterday at a press conference where he made it clear that Duffy was not going to accept a toss under the Conservative Party bus.   He made it plain that his client had been threatened with the loss of his Senate seat if he didn't comply and he added that Stephen Harper was in on it all.

Bayne went further and implicated former Senate majority leader Marjory LeBreton as having approved Duffy's housing claims from Day 1.  LeBreton, you may remember, turned on Duffy as quickly as the wind changes direction.

Today it was Duffy's turn as he rose in the Senate to speak to the motion that he be suspended.   This time Duffy went for the jugular, telling his fellow senators that Stephen Harper were present at a meeting at which Harper ordered Duffy to repay the housing allowances to appease his "base."  He maintains that Harper knew full well of Nigel Wright's cheque and okayed it.   Suddenly the Duffy-Wright scandal becomes the Duffy-Harper-Wright affair.

There has been some word that RCMP Commissioner Paulson has been under pressure to rein this in, to narrow the investigation to just Wright and Duffy.  The Bayne and Duffy appearances may have just pre-empted that possibility.   Duffy's salvation now may hinge on the condemnation of the miscreants he dealt with- from the Senate to the PMO to the prime minister himself.

My guess is that Harper is doing the math, calculating the odds against his own political survival.  He still needs Duffy out of the Senate, neutralized to the extent possible.  Silencing the Cavendish Cottager might allow Harper to finally change the channel, move on to other things and allow the scandal to sizzle out just like all the other scandals before.

I don't think Harper can allow the RCMP to move against Duffy.  That's way too risky for Harper personally.   While the Prime Minister's Office was sanitized, all the e-mails and memos purged, Nigel Wright kept his own copies that he handed over in a binder to the RCMP.   Stephen Harper knows what those documents contain.

Duffy and his counsel also have a trove of documents including at least one smoking gun.   Stephen Harper can't risk being grilled under oath if Duffy has to stand trial and he cannot risk Nigel Wright having to give evidence under oath about what Harper knew of the Wright-Duffy cheque.

Thus it remains to be seen whether the dramatic events of the past two days mark the opening or the closing salvo in the Duffy-Harper-Wright affair.


Dana said...

I'm sure the RCMP now has an assassination squad which, although originally intended for deployment against first nations and environmentalists, will now go into "extreme" mode vis a vis the Senate of Canada.

The Mound of Sound said...

It would solve a lot of problems for a lot of people if one particular senator had a tragic accident.

Scotian said...

A well written post Mound. You nicely summed things up and showed why I have always called this a PMO scandal, not a Senate scandal. As to your conclusion, I think you are correct, but I do think the probability leans more towards this being the opening rather than the closing, but not by so much as to make the closing scenario seem low order probability either. I am wondering if the reason Harper decided to go the expulsion route in the Senate is that he is trying to create a double jeopardy defence to block criminal investigation, while yes we do not know that this is the way the law would see it, we also do not know if it would not either, and just having the possibility to argue could in itself be a powerful tool for delay and denial of open/public criminal investigation, so just having the possibility may be worth it to him given what it appears he and his really did. It would certainly explain why Harper is willing to corner Duffy, I find it hard to believe that Harper did not have any idea how Duffy would react when cornered like this, so why did he do it? Was it because he felt it necessary for his base (which was the original reason this who idiocy started when you get down to it), he was getting just more and more pissed and let his known tendency for holding and settling grudge scores get the better of him, or is he trying to create a legal defence move here, or some combination of these three things?

At this point I don't think Duffy can be neutralized in terms of Harper, diminished yes, but completely neutralized, no. I think not even Harper's core base is going to be able to go along with that in their own hearts (regardless of whether they publicly admit it or not of course), as you so clearly pointed out in this post too many things from too many sources including documents line up to make Duffy's main defence argument today come off as not only plausible but very believable, especially since Harper has consistently stonewalled, while he has replied to questions on the matter in the House he has all but completely refused to actually answer any questions, and the little he did was to establish and maintain his "it is all on Wright" defence.

I am more happy with the way the Libs stayed focused on this being a PMO scandal than the NDP's decision to make the Senate at least as much the issue for them, but even given that Mulcair has done a serviceable job for the most part in the way he questions Harper on the issue when he gets the chance. So I think this scandal may be finally starting to pass the point of no return/recovery for Harper, the question being that if that is the case how far will it actually go. Me, I'm hoping for the Nixon level impact and legacy on him, because I really do believe
Harper has crossed not just the legal line (after all many laws are not criminal in nature but are still laws that are supposed to be followed, especially by public leaders/officials) but the criminal line in his quest for power since before he gained the PMO (As I used to argue regarding the Grewal fraud of 2005) as well as the campaigns he ran, the Cadman approach, and how he has run his government/PMO since. It needs to be exposed and proven beyond any reasonable doubt before we have a chance of cleaning the stain on the honour of our nation that he has created IMHO.

I was always such a Harper foe because I recognized his contempt for our history, our culture (social and political), but most of all because I feared he would show equal contempt to any laws that got in his way, even criminal laws. Everything I used to write about hims was my cold clear belief/perception, I've never been into the use of rhetoric, I tend to call things exactly as I see them, and Harper is finally I think starting to show enough of this side that perhaps the Canadian public will finally start seeing what I've seen all along since his early days in Reform.

I can hope...

The Mound of Sound said...

Scotian, I think this is just another case of those creating a cover-up losing control. Once they lose control it's almost impossible to regain it and thereafter they have to fall back on thin lies and denials.

But for that first, leaked e-mail this plan might have succeeded. It might have caused a ripple or two but nothing to endanger Harper & Co.

It was obvious that Harper had lost control of the situation when he initially backed Nigel Wright as having done nothing wrong. He simply did not know what else to do. He was grasping.

How incriminating is it that every memo, every e-mail that circulated through the PMO was mysteriously expunged, erased, purged? That is an act of utter desperation.

There is a lot of material that hasn't surfaced yet. Trust me, there's plenty more.

the salamander said...

.. exemplary analysis as always.. MoS .. I developed my Black Swans circling over Harper - intuition based on continued reports such as this, by you and others.. Of course you're bang on correct.. 'more to come' ..

What needs to follow is the understanding & public acceptance.. that everything undertaken by Harper, Flanagan, PMO, the Conservative Party, unelected trogs, stooges, government lawyers et al - is just as devious, partisan, twisted and obstructive.. un-Canadian, undemocratic, secretive & unaccounted for.

That means 'everything' .. CEPA, China, fracking, BC politics, Alberta political connections, senate, omnibus bills, election fraud, information suppression, environmental attacks .. The list is endless

the salamander said...

.. PS .. right now it 'he said - versus he said'
oops - c'mon up Pam Wallin !!!!
and he said versus he plus she said !

deb Scott said...

I hope the noose keeps tightening around Harpers neck. This scandal needs to be a fullfledged criminal investigation. I think the conservatives should be having secret meetings about who is going to approach good ol' Steve to fall on his sword and step down, call an election concede hes beat...whatever they want to frame it as.
Now who can replace him...Kenney or Moore?

crf said...

Harper couldn't abide any tarnishment of his image. So, rather than face what might have been a week of bad press about his judgement in Senatorial appointments, he hatched a maximalist strategy: the Duffy residency and expenses problem would be solved by a colluding with the Senate conservative leadership to whitewash a report. Duffy would be asked to repay expenses, but not with his own money, ensuring Duffy's collusion and silence in what appears to me to be a crime. Harper involved his Lawyer and Chief of Staff: ensuring their own personal taintedness. The whole turd is wrapped up in a box with a neat little bow on top and everyone can forget about it.

If not one person talks or writes anything down on paper, this whole house of lies can stand firm. What are the odds of that? To a rational independent observer, it's a poor strategy. To a control freak like Harper, he thought he could always direct the outcome.

Why would Harper think that way? Because he successfully used this strategy before. The offer to Chuck Cadman of a life-insurance payoff in exchange for a vote. Nothing happened to him. Robocalls in Saanich-Gulf Islands in the 2008 election. Nothing happened to him. Robocalls in the last election. In and out affair. But nothing happened to Harper.

crf said...

Why save to save Duffy? Is there any rational reason, other than try to limit the appearance of bad judgement on Harper's part?

* The conservatives had to show that they take care of their own: Duffy's problem with his reputation and Senate expenses needed to be taken care of by the Conservative party because Duffy had been loyal. The PM and Conservative Senate leadership helping Duffy was a display for the benefit of other Conservative Senators and MPs, with the moral theme that if they stayed loyal, Harper would indeed have their backs.

That this whole thing is a loyalty building exercise incompetently executed is one reason I can think of that might explain how Perrin and Wright were originally persuaded to suspend their common sense go along with Harper's seemingly crazy scheme.

Perhaps the RCMP had informed Wright and Perrin that they should stay quiet in order to protect their potential testimony in a criminal case. (Politically, that would be an extraordinary call for the RCMP to make: but their job is investigate crimes and secure evidence.) Since Duffy and his lawyer have now made a lot of details public, as has Wright, perhaps Perrin and Wright can get the go ahead from the RCMP and their lawyers to safely talk about some more of what they know. Harper is making a mockery of our Parliament. These people who the details should feel some duty to protect it.

CuJoYYC said...

After breaking Omertà, Duffy might need to hire personal body guards until that weak heart of his finally fails. Perhaps Nigel can help fund this life preserving necessity.

Scotian said...

"It was obvious that Harper had lost control of the situation when he initially backed Nigel Wright as having done nothing wrong. He simply did not know what else to do. He was grasping.

How incriminating is it that every memo, every e-mail that circulated through the PMO was mysteriously expunged, erased, purged? That is an act of utter desperation.

There is a lot of material that hasn't surfaced yet. Trust me, there's plenty more."

1:18 AM, October 23, 2013

I quoted the above because I think it goes to the heart of why I believe as I do about this matter. The idea that there is and truth in there being no paper trail in PMO being from anything other than a deliberate and desperate purge goes beyond any reasonable ability to suspend disbelief. Like yourself I have some understanding of just how any government creates in paper trails ESPECIALLY whenever lawyers are involved in any way, and it is clear they were in this matter.

The really telling point though was the one you pointed to, those first four days between once Wright's "gift" was publicly known until Harper finally realized he had to let him go. Listening to mouthpiece Pierre Poilievre talking how about how honourable Wright did the very honourable thing for an honourable Senator Duffy is saving taxpayers from the horror of being on the hook for these expences (when any sane person knows about how wages can be garnished when debt is owed and the debtor is either being obstinate or unable any other way to repay their debt) still lives in my memory as one of the most absurd pieces of political spin I have ever heard in 46 years of life and over 35 years of following politics (yes, got brainwashed young that way...LOL).

I mean really, the fact that Harper spent any time defending Wright while trying to claim the media was the first he heard of any of this was one of the more idiotic moves he has made IMHO. By doing so he totally undercut any chance of his denial being taken seriously, because if it really was the very first thing he would have done is if not fire suspend Wright and order an investigation within his office to find out who exposed him and his government and party to such a dangerous, damaging, and clearly potentially criminal scheme. Instead Harper acted like an old school mafia don who believed that nothing could touch him regardless of what he did and that it was more important to as you noted make sure all followed the loyalty code and kept to the omerta protocols within it.

That I am finding it necessary to describe a sitting government in such terms regardless of party affiliation disgusts me. Unlike some I have always had a high regard of respect for our political institutions despite the failings of the human beings that operate it, I appreciate just how important having peaceful means of transferring power and legitimacy really is for a stable society, something I find far too many people fail to appreciate anymore when they thing of the word politics. So I don't use pejoratives lightly when it comes to describing how a government works even when it is by those I do not politically support, because normally I see them as opponents, not enemies. The Harper regime however has forced me to see them as enemies since they clearly see everyone not on their side as such and have acted accordingly, and that comes from Harper himself.

Anyway, it is going to be interesting to watch this unfold further, I think it may have finally hit nuclear, in that a chain reaction has become self sustaining. We will see.

CuJoYYC said...

If Duffy was careful enough to have others listen in to phone calls from the Conservative leadership, then no doubt there's at least one spicy and very incriminating email CC'd to Harper.

I wonder if Duffy had a case or two of Depends™ shipped to the PMO before he spoke in the Red Chamber yesterday?

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Chris - I think the players truly believed they could do this under the table. They might well have gotten away with it but for Duffy sending an incautious e-mail to one too many recipients.

After that it all spiraled out of control in the classical botched cover-up fashion. Look at the fallout. Duffy gone. Perrin gone. Wright falling on his sword. Woodcock gone. LeBreton resigns. Tkachuk pleads cancer. Short-pants kid, Novak, brought in as chief of staff.

This is not a process that is under control. This is a very desperate, high-risk play for survival. Harper has no choice but to steer straight through the minefield and hope for the best.

@ CuJo. Believe it or not I had a very serious discussion about just that last night.