So, what did "personally assisted" mean?
Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, was on the stand again Wednesday for a sixth day of cross-examination by Sen. Mike Duffy's lawyer.
Under questioning from Donald Bayne, Wright was asked what he meant in a May 14, 2013, email in which he stated:
"The PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy when I was getting him to agree to repay the expenses. On the specific matter, I did not co-sign a loan."
Earlier, Wright had acknowledged that the Prime Minister's Office had not acted with the "highest standards of transparency and clarity" when it misled the public and the media about who had repaid money Duffy received for living and housing expense claims.
In multiple public statements, the PMO painted a picture in the public's mind that Duffy had paid taxpayers back for his own inappropriate expense claims. On May 14, 2013, CTV reporter Bob Fife told the PMO he had sources saying Wright had helped Duffy secure a loan to repay the expenses. The PMO responded that Duffy's expenses had been repaid but did not answer the specific question of Wright's involvement.
"Would the PM know the actual answer to the question? Just in case he asks us," Harper's then press secretary, Carl Vallée, asked Wright in an email.
Wright replied that Harper knew in only "broad terms" of his personal assistance to Duffy.
So, what did that mean?
In court Wednesday, Wright insisted it meant the prime minister knew only that Wright had personally handled the matter.
"How else did you personally assist Mr. Duffy other than paying the $90,000," Bayne asked.
"What I meant by that [is] that the PM knew that I was personally involved in the Duffy matter. Speaking with Sen. Duffy, working on the lines," Wright responded.
"There were other examples of situation like this, where I had overseen it but I hadn't been personally involved in the resolution," Wright added.
"Your express words are 'the PM knows in broad terms only that I personally assisted Duffy when getting him to agree to repay the expenses.' Those are your words," Bayne said.
"And the broadest, the broadest term in which you personally assisted Mike Duffy, in getting him to agree to repay personally is — and the only personal way you assisted him in getting him to repay is, providing the money, right?"
"'Personally' here means personally involved, engaged in the file," Wright said. The personal part, he said, was that he was involved in the file rather than having staff members deal with it.
Bayne pointed out that Wright had earlier testified that the only "personal contribution" he made in getting Duffy to repay his expenses was his "provision of the funds."
"There can't be anything else 'personal' that you told the prime minister by way of assistance other than that," he said, "because that is the only personal part, the rest [of your action] was all as chief of staff."
At that point, Crown attorney Mark Holmes objected to Bayne's line of questioning.
"This seems to be entirely politically motivated as opposed to relevant to anything in this trial," he said. "Mr. Duffy [and] Mr. Bayne may have an agenda, but the court should not be party to it."
Judge Charles Vaillancourt said he thought the question was "appropriate" and he wanted to find out what the answer was.
Wright again insisted that "personally assisted" did not mean he had told the prime minister he had provided Duffy with the money.
"In my role as chief of staff, there were other issues with expenses with members that others looked after that I didn't get involved with personally. [The] PM, while I had never engaged a lot with him on this, knew that I was engaged personally in working with Sen. Duffy on this," Wright said.
Harper Grilled In Question Period
On Nov. 20, 2013, Harper was asked in the House of Commons what Wright meant when he said Harper knew he had "personally assisted" Duffy.
The email had been released as part of a production order filed with the court by the RCMP. The media and opposition parties used it to try to figure out the goings-on inside the PMO a few months earlier on the whole Duffy affair.
In question period, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair demanded to know what the email meant.
"The prime minister just said that he did not know until May 15, but unfortunately for him, on May 14, Nigel Wright wrote that the prime minister in fact did know that he, Wright, had 'personally assisted Duffy,'" Mulcair said. "Is that true?"
Harper responded that the RCMP documents proved that Wright had told him that Duffy had agreed to repay the money. "He did not inform me of his personal decision to pay that money himself. When I learned of that, I took the appropriate action," he said.
On Jan. 28, 2014, Mulcair asked again about the prime minister's knowledge that Wright had "personally assisted" Duffy. The NDP leader wanted to know if Harper was saying Wright was lying.
"Is what Nigel Wright put in writing true or false?," Mulcair asked.
Harper deflected. Three times.
"The RCMP was clear about this issue: I had no knowledge of this matter," the prime minister said.
The prime minister's former lawyer, Benjamin Perrin, takes the stand on Thursday.
– With files from Ryan Maloney
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