Sunday, July 07, 2013

Can We Trust the RCMP to Investigate Duffy-Wright-Harper?

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson sent a curious e-mail to his senior officers in March of this year.

In an email dated March 22 from Paulson to more than 50 chief superintendents, assistant commissioners and deputy commissioners, the commissioner said that meetings or lunches with parliamentarians "can have unintended and/or negative consequences for the organization and the government. Therefore, should you or your staff receive such requests, I am directing that you advise my office and the chief strategic policy and planning officer."

A second email shows the effect of the new policy. It cancels a planned lunch between a senior Mountie and a parliamentarian because of "direction from Commissioner Paulson's office" that such meetings "have to first be approved by the minister's office. This email is to cancel the luncheon."

Hmm, what was going on in March?  Oh yes, the RCMP opened its investigation into the Cavendish Cottager, Senator Mike Duffy.  That's the sort of thing that might have "unintended and/or negative consequences for the organization and the government."

When the CBC revealed the e-mails, NDP MP Randall Garrison was pretty outspoken. "It's not appropriate for the government to reach into the police operation. It's a very, very fundamental part of what we must be assured exists so that the police aren't doing the work of the government, they're doing the work of the public."

And it's certainly not appropriate for the government to throw a blanket of silence over the RCMP just when the RCMP is opening its biggest political investigation since the Mulroney era and one that goes straight inside the PMO and quite possibly even higher.

It is certainly helpful to keep the Toews/Paulson gag order in mind when digesting the contents of the sworn Information of RCMP Corporal Greg Horton.

In his Information, Horton relates a letter received from Nigel Wright's counsel stating that four senior officials of the Prime Minister's Office - the Chief of Staff, the Assistant Chief of Staff, the Director of Issue Management and the Chief Counsel who was also Harper's personal legal adviser, were all aware of the Wright-Duffy deal.

But here's the thing.   Horton then seems to accept their implausible assertion that Harper knew nothing of it.   He gives no basis for that except the assertions of people who were either principals in or privy to the commission of an apparent and serious crime.  It's as though the fix was in.

This reminds me of those movie battle scenes where the King is beset by attackers and his bravest knights rally to his defence, sacrificing themselves to protect him.  Yet Corporal Horton doesn't seem to explore that possibility.

Cops are trained to reject far-fetched excuses and bizarre coincidence to explain wrongdoing and exonerate logical suspects.  Except, it seems, in this case.

"I am currently assigned to Sensitive and International Investigations within the National Division of the RCMP responsible for investigating matters of significant risk to Canada's political, economic and social integrity."

That's a mouthful but no matter how many times you repeat it, you're still left without a clear idea of just what this guy does.  Is he a spook, is he a cop, is he some hybrid?   The important question is whether he's the right guy to investigate a crime and cover-up that could go straight into 24 Sussex Drive?  Because, if Nigel Wright's apparently illegal under-the-table payment to Mike Duffy was done at Harper's behest or with Harper's approval, Harper might be a principal to any criminal wrongdoing.

I'd like to know that the RCMP doesn't consider the prime minister above the law.  I thought Magna Carta did away with that.  Harper may be channeling the spirit of Richard Nixon who told David Frost:

Harper didn't know, really?  It was common knowledge among the top echelon of his own and nobody else's, the prime minister's PMO.  It was common knowledge to the half of Ottawa on Mike Duffy's e-mail list.  The Conservative Fund knew of it.   Senior Tory senators were in on it.  The Ottawa legal community was in on it.  Wright's cheque was apparently processed through the trust account of a senior Ottawa law firm.

But, apparently as far as the RCMP is concerned, the prime minister knew nothing.  Sideshow Steve didn't know and, even as this scandal was exploding in his face, no one told him, presumably because he didn't ask, presumably because he already knew everything.  Nothing to see here, move along.

If you're going to closely follow this business, here's a tip.  From here on in, a good deal of what happens is going to be obscure, nuanced.  You're going to have to read between the lines without jumping to conclusions.

There are back stories in play here.   Corporal Horton's Information notes that it has not yet been determined whether Nigel Wright is a suspect or a witness.  Investigators have met with Wright's lawyers.  Those lawyers have, in turn, furnished the RCMP with a letter implicating three other top PMO officials in the Duffy scandal.  Is Wright willing to roll over on senior PMO staff and possibly Harper himself to avoid a career-ending criminal mess?  Don't jump to conclusions but that is a possibility.

What will Duffy's lawyers do?  They're a high-powered Ottawa firm.  It appears a senior partner in that firm received Wright's cheque, possibly ran it through the firm trust account, and then made payment on behalf of their client to the Receiver-General.  There's an awful lot that could emerge from that.  Don't jump to conclusions but that is a possibility.

There are a lot of important people who need to answer some difficult questions including the PMO Quartet.   If they talk, and it's by no means certain or even probable that they will, they'll run the risk of criminal prosecution for obstruction if they lie.   Everybody at this point has to wonder what everyone else knows, what everyone else might tell investigators, what records and documents might emerge?  It's pretty hard to trust people when this starts.


Kim said...

Shades of the BC Rail investigation and trial. I wouldn't be surprised if Justice Anne MacKenzie rode in to prevent justice from being done, percieved or in fact.

Lorne said...

Given Duffy's degree of disgrace, Mound, one wonders that if it comes to facing criminal charges he might offer to make a deal and lay the blame on Harper's doorstep. Of course, your post raises the question of whether or not our federal police would allow it to go in that direction.

The Mound of Sound said...

Lorne, I think at this point Harper is trying to herd cats. There are too many leaks. Most, I'm told, are from inside. Harper has plenty of adversaries but his real enemies are Tories.

Duffy, I'm told, feels ill-used, abandoned, betrayed. That he precipitated his downfall by his own reckless, boastful e-mails doesn't ease his anger at the PMO and Harper.

Our prime minister has boxed himself in. He's sticking to the story that he knew nothing about any of this until mid-May.

Corporal Horton's Information states that the RCMP investigation was opened in March following news accounts of the senate expenses business. Duffy, by Harper's own admission, had already told the PM about his financial difficulties.

Still, Harper claims he knew nothing until May. That means that even his personal legal adviser, Benjamin Perrin, didn't mention anything about it when he abruptly quit the PMO and hightailed it back to Vancouver in April.

And, when Harper did get wind of it, in May (he claims), what did he do? He came to the defence of Nigel Wright. Curious. Did he get to the bottom of it and sack the others involved, van Hemmen and Woodcock? Apparently not. Apparently Steve was pretty much okay with people using his PMO behind his back to perpetrate what appear to be crimes. Odd, isn't it?

We should be delighted that Steve is now stuck to his story. He's no longer a moving target. Now, as details continue to emerge and people begin to talk, Steve's story can only become ever more absurd.

Owen Gray said...

Harper's strategy has always been to ignore or deny evidence, Mound. He appears to being doing that now.

The problem is, he's lost control of the story -- and the evidence will out.

Scotian said...

There was a time not so long ago where I would have trusted the RCMP to do a professional job in investigating even a sitting PM, but the actions since the mid 2000s onwards from the top implying a clear Conservative partisanship and worse willingness to use it to affect political outcomes in elections has shattered that for me. I am these days more than a little wary of the leadership of the RCMP where this CPC government is concerned, but I still hope that there are still enough professionals still within the Mounties to prevent a full cover-up attempt if it were to be tried by Harper and his compatriots from succeeding if only by leaking the attempt, and that those senior Mounties who would enable such see that risk and decide their own pensions matter more to them than Harper. It really offends me on a personal level because of family history with the RCMP to be saying any of this, as well as on the more professional/civic side of things.

I agree with you regarding the importance of nuance, context, careful consideration and being very slow to come to conclusions about what we see from here on out. Indeed, I think it very wiser of you to make this point. I also agree with you that Harper's decision to be oh so very “perfectly clear” about what he knew and when from the outset may well be backfiring for him, especially given what Wright has appeared to have said to the RCMP. As it was the story from the outset was only believable to Harper hard core followers, now with what is coming out I have a hard time understanding how even the most devoted Harperite can see this and not have some twinges of disbelief in their focus, but then I've never been any good at understanding the mindset of a fanatic/zealot, the idea of blind faith/trust in anything is beyond my ability. I can understand the implications of such mindsets, the ramifications of such, but actually understand them regardless of their focus, that I've not mastered the knack of, and to be honest I can't say that saddens me too much.

Either Harper knew from the outset, or he created the environment where his top people could make serious policy decisions without his input that could bring down his government, neither of which should be seen by anyone regardless of political stripe as acceptable in a party/government leader. Given Harper's well documented history as something of an extreme control freak even by the standards of those inherent control freaks that PMs tend to be I can't accept he was in the dark, and his support of Wright in the first days after this went full media for me seals that position regardless of what Harper claims he is so clear about. Actions are clearer than words, especially with politicians.

I know Harper will lie when it suits his political needs, even where criminal matters are concerned, he showed that when he covered up the Grewal recordings fraud back in 2005, a topic I flogged for years afterwards because of what it showed Harper was capable of doing in his quest/lust for power, and that if he would go so far beyond precedent and the law while only the LOO as a PM he would be far more dangerous and abusive of power. Well, here we are...