WATCH ABOVE: Nigel Wright was feeling the pressure again today while on stand during the Mike Duffy trial as he was cross-examined by Duffy’s lawyer on why he would “lie to the prime minister” about Duffy repaying his own expenses. Mike Le Couteur has the story.
Stephen Harper’s former right-hand man rejected accusations on Monday that he lied to the prime minister as he and other top advisers scrambled behind the scenes to make Mike Duffy’s expense scandal disappear.
Duffy trial cheat sheet: Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask
During Nigel Wright’s fourth day on the stand in Duffy’s trial, the embattled senator’s lawyer hammered Wright on his decision to, according to testimony and evidence, tell the prime minister Duffy was going to repay his expenses.
“That wasn’t true, and you knew that wasn’t true,” Donald Bayne said Monday.
READ MORE: Harper grilled about Duffy trial while campaigning in New Brunswick
The plan, at that point in February 2013, was to have the Conservative Party repay the dubious housing and living expenses Duffy had accumulated throughout his tenure as a Harper-appointed senator.
In a brief meeting with Harper on Feb. 22, 2013, Wright said only “that Duffy was going to repay” the money at the centre of the Senate expenses scandal —; then thought to total $32,000 —; not where the funds were coming from.
“Why would you lie to the prime minister, if in fact that’s all you told him?” Bayne asked Wright. “Did you not think there was a difference [between Duffy repaying the money and a third party paying it]?”
READ MORE: Harper didn’t know Mike Duffy wouldn’t use his own money to repay claims, Nigel Wright says
“I don’t think I lied to the prime minister,” Wright responded. “I didn’t mention the source of the funds … I didn’t think that was a distinction that was that significant … The significant fact was that the expenses were going to reimbursed and he wouldn’t be claiming them anymore.”
WATCH: During his fourth day on the stand at the Mike Duffy trial, Nigel Wright was cross-examined by Duffy’s lawyer and was asked why he “would lie to the prime minister.” Laura Stone reports.
That plan eventually fell apart: The amount owing turned out to be almost triple, and the party was no longer willing to foot the bill, leading Wright to reach into his personal bank account.
Wright’s name has become inextricably linked with Duffy’s case since it was revealed that, while serving as the prime minister’s top aide, he used personal funds to cover $90,000 of the senator’s dubious expense claims.
READ MORE: Mike Duffy’s lawyer suggests Nigel Wright ‘deliberately deceived’ Canadians
That decision was made after the party finally balked at cutting a cheque when the amount owing turned out to also include per diems and food allowances, ballooning from $32,000 to $90,000.
Wright told the court Duffy never actually asked for money to repay the claims. Rather, he said, he felt it was implied after Duffy twice said he didn’t have the means to.
“I think it implied in the context of the conversation when he said he doesn’t have the money,” Wright told the court. So he offered to find Duffy a “source” for the funds.
READ MORE: Duffy trial cheat sheet
Throughout Wright’s testimony, he has maintained his decision to pay – a decision he described as quick and which he says he’s since regretted – was in the taxpayer’s best interest.
The Crown has argued Duffy was an “equal partner” or “instigator” of a scheme that would allow him to tell everyone he had repaid the money when, in truth, he’d managed to get someone else to.
During cross-examination, however, Bayne has offered a different take. He has suggested Duffy, who is accused of fraud and accepting a bribe, was coerced into accepting the $90,000 despite believing he’d done nothing wrong following “threats” his status as a senator would be at stake if he refused to repay the questionable expenses.
Wright assured the court there was no implicit or explicit threat to Duffy, despite emails Bayne entered as evidence.
“The threat seems obvious,” Duffy wrote in a Feb. 20, 2013 email to the lawyer who was then handling his case. “You take the dive or this [Conservative-majority Senate committee looking at the issue] will throw you out on the residency issue before you’ve had any kind of hearing.”
The embattled P.E.I. senator is on trial for a total of 31 charges of breach of trust and fraud, including a one-way bribery charge. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The veracity of Harper’s public statements on the Duffy repayment and those of his spokespeople and cabinet ministers, continue to dog the Conservative leader on the campaign trail.
Harper told the House of Commons in June 2013, well after Wright’s payment had come to light, that his former chief of staff had told no one in his office about his decision.
A reporter asked Harper again Monday about the fact his staff had apparently lied to him. Harper has not directly responded to such questions.
The prime minister said Duffy and Wright are responsible and are being held accountable.
With files from