OTTAWA — Stephen Harper’s former legal counsel told police that Ray Novak, the prime minister’s current chief of staff, knew Nigel Wright paid Mike Duffy’s expenses.
Novak, who is technically on leave from the PMO but is travelling with Harper during the election campaign, has been avoiding the media since news broke that a paper trail existed suggesting he was well aware that Wright had provided Duffy, the former Conservative senator, with $90,000 to repay money received for inappropriate housing and living expenses.
In court Tuesday at Duffy’s trial on multiple charges of fraud and breach of trust and one count of bribery, Donald Bayne read a statement Benjamin Perrin, Harper’s former special advisor and legal counsel, had given to police on Feb. 20, 2014.
Perrin told the RCMP he was in the room on March 22, 2013, and looked to see Novak’s reaction when Wright mentioned that he was paying Duffy’s expenses.
“I believe Ray Novak was in the room at that time, so that was right before the call,” Perrin said. “But Ray was also there on the call when Nigel Wright said to Janice Payne [Duffy’s lawyer at the time] he would do it,” Perrin told the RCMP, according to a statement Bayne read out.
“Ray was in that meeting and Ray heard this, and I remember looking at Ray to see his reaction,” Perrin added. ”So this is black and white, OK?,” he told the cop.
Perrin pointed to other documents that placed Novak at the meeting. So far, documents introduced as evidence in court show Novak listed as a conference participant to that March 22 call with Wright, Perrin, Payne. He is also on an email Wright sent in which he referred to “my cheque.”
Perrin told the RCMP officer that he was “shocked” when the Mounties’ production order did not list Novak as one of the individuals who knew of the Wright payment.
“I have to say that it was, I've actually been shocked when I saw the ITO coming out saying who knew, because Ray Novak was not listed in that, OK. ... I'm just saying it sounds like it is disputed by him, so, fair enough, you'll deal with that. The people that...from my own personal knowledge knew about this, [were] obviously Nigel Wright, myself, Ray Novak, we've gone through that, and David van Hemmen, Nigel Wright's assistant.”
Wright, however, testified Tuesday that Novak “popped in and out” of the meeting where he discussed Duffy’s expenses and that only Perrin and himself were on the call.
“Ray wasn’t on the call. He may have dropped into the office for part of it but he wasn’t on the call,” Wright said.
“You know that Mr. Perrin’s evidence will be that he was on the call throughout,” Bayne asked Wright.
“I don’t know that. I know the email suggests he was invited, but I don’t know, that’s just not true,” he said, his voice straining.
“Does he just wander through your office?” Bayne asked.
“He has the office next door, I think he had other things going on. I think I wanted him on the call but he didn’t participate,” Wright said.
Wright And Novak Last Spoke Two Weeks Ago
Bayne asked Wright when he last spoke to Perrin. Wright answered that he had spoken or had an email exchange with Perrin at the very beginning.
“What about Ray Novak?” Bayne asked.
“Yes, I have spoken to Ray,” Wright responded.
Harper’s former chief of staff told the court he is aware Novak has said he didn’t know until sometime in May 2013 that Wright had provided the funds for Duffy’s reimbursements. The news of the deal broke on CTV on May 14. Harper has insisted he was not made aware until May 15. Wright said it was accurate that Novak wasn’t on the call because he had “popped in and out” of the meeting. When asked if he was aware Novak was publicly claiming he never read the “my cheque” email, Wright responded: “I saw that.”
“When did you last talk to Ray Novak?” Bayne asked again.
“I would have spoken to him in May or June,” Wright said.
Bayne pressed. He said he wanted to be “precise” with Wright, given a previous answer he’d given to the media about the use of the Conservative party fund.
“When did you last communicate, in any fashion, directly or indirectly with Ray Novak?”
“Probably about two weeks ago,” Wright said, softly.
“For how long?”
“Just basically messages.”
“For how long?,” Bayne repeated.
“A minute or two,” Wright said.
“Email messages?” Bayne asked.
“And these are the messages that have no record, BBM?”
“I don’t know if that’s true,” Wright responded.
“Are they like the PINS, the secure messages?” Bayne asked.
“It’s a Blackberry messenger, yeah.”
“Yeah. Do you have copies of those message?”
“Do I have copies of them? No.”
Conservatives Deny Novak Knew. But If He Did, So Did Harper
Conservative spokesperson Kory Teneycke has denied that Novak knew anything before May 2013 about Wright’s involvement in paying Duffy’s expenses. He said that Novak was not on the conference call in March 2013 and that he did not read an email from his boss that mentioned the cheque.
But, more important, Teneycke suggested to reporters Thursday that if Novak knew about Wright’s payment, then so did Harper.
“Mr. Novak learned about this at the same time the prime minister did. I’ve known Ray for 20 years. It’s unfathomable that Ray would be aware of a payment from Nigel (Wright) to Mr. Duffy and not tell the prime minister. It’s just unfathomable,” Teneycke said.
More Novak Media Questions
On the campaign trail, Harper has repeatedly brushed aside questions about Novak and Wright.
Last Friday, a reporter asked the Conservative leader directly why he not only “tolerated Mr. Novak’s lying” but promoted him to chief of staff.
At a campaign event on Sunday, Harper was asked how he felt knowing that his senior staff, including Novak, allowed him to “repeat a lie for months” that Duffy had repaid his own expenses.
On Monday, Harper was asked why he just doesn’t “clean house” among his senior staff and campaign team.
Tuesday, hours before the revelations in court, the Conservative leader was asked if he felt “embarrassed” by the way his office handled the Duffy issue.
In each case, Harper dug in saying “two individuals” were responsible for the mess — Wright and Duffy — and both men are being held accountable.
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