OTTAWA – Ray Novak, Stephen Harper’s chief of staff and a key member of the Conservative campaign team, has been caught in the slipstream of Mike Duffy’s criminal trial.
Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s former right-hand man, is back for a second day of cross-examination by Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne.
Novak replaced Wright as chief of staff after it became public that Wright had given Duffy $90,000 of his own money to pay back disallowed housing and travel expenses.
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As he walked to the courthouse, Wright was besieged by reporters wanting to know if Novak was aware of the $90,000 payment, but he did not respond.
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Emails entered into evidence show Novak was explicitly told Wright intended to pay, but Harper spokesman Kory Teneycke says Novak never saw the specific email describing the plan.
Harper has been dogged on the campaign trail by Duffy questions for days, and Friday was no different.
At a stop in Hay River, N.W.T., Harper stuck to his claim that Duffy and Wright are to blame – and suggested that Novak, as a “subordinate” of Wright, should not be held responsible for the actions of his boss.
“These are the actions of Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright,” Harper said.
“You hold people responsible for their own actions, you certainly don’t hold subordinates responsible for the actions of their superiors … these are the two people who are responsible and they are being held accountable.”
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Despite the fact a number of staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office were aware of what was going on, Harper has consistently denied being told his chief of staff was going to foot the bill.
Harper said he believed Duffy repaid the money himself.
“We were all told that Mr. Duffy had repaid his expenses,” Harper said.
“That’s not what only the entire caucus thought, and I thought, that is what the vast majority of our staff also believed was the case.”
Novak was on a conference call with Wright, Duffy’s lawyer and the lawyer for the PMO in March 2013, but Teneycke said he was pulled away before the arrangement was discussed.
Duffy – who usually holds his tongue during his daily trudges to and from the courthouse – appeared to be in particular good humour on Friday morning.
When a journalist remarked on that, Duffy turned on his heels and said with a grin, “I’m always in a good mood.”
Inside the courtroom Friday, Bayne continued to suggest Wright pushed Duffy into lying to the public about who paid for his expense filings.
Duffy’s lawyer also went after Wright’s statements to the police.
“Why did you use the language ‘we had to force him to do this’ rather than saying I was persistent?” Bayne asked.
“Because I had to apply a lot of pressure,” Wright said. “I had be persistent.”
“You said ‘we basically had to force him’,” said Bayne.
“I used those words, they were short-hand,” Wright said.
“I’m telling you the connotation I was intending to convey with those words.”
“You know what sir, you are a great champion, when it suits you, of common-sense rationale,” Bayne said.
“You call it Chinese water torture,” Bayne said, referring to an e-mail from Wright entered into evidence.
“What I call Chinese water torture is the dribbling out of new facts,” Wright said.