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.