OTTAWA – Mike Duffy’s defence lawyer ripped into Nigel Wright’s choir-boy image Friday as he used his cross-examination of Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff to slowly pick apart the bribery charge against his client.
Donald Bayne pulled no punches during his inquisition, trying to discredit Wright by suggesting he and others in the Prime Minister’s Office had strong-armed Duffy into a expense-repayment scheme the senator did not support.
Bayne suggested Wright was “pissed off” at Duffy’s resistance to go along with the plan.
“Why did you use the language, ‘We had to force him to do this,’ rather than saying, ‘I was persistent?'” Bayne asked, referencing statements Wright gave to police about the effort to get Duffy to repay his disallowed expense claims.
“Because I had to apply a lot of pressure,” Wright replied. “I had be persistent.”
“You said, ‘We basically had to force him,'” Bayne said.
“I’m telling you the connotation I was intending to convey with those words,” Wright replied.
To which Bayne said, “You know what, sir, you are a great champion — when it suits you — of common-sense rationale.”
Bayne also raised an email in which Wright, describing the need to contain the escalating Duffy scandal, called it “Chinese water torture,” and asked him what he meant.
“What I call Chinese water torture is the dribbling out of new facts,” Wright replied.
Sen. Duffy faces 31 charges including fraud, bribery and breach of trust, including three which relate to Wright’s famous $90,000 payment to Duffy to cover the cost of repaying his disallowed expenses.
Bribery is one of the most serious offences in the Criminal Code, as it carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. The Crown needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Duffy accepted the payment with corrupt intent.
Duffy, meanwhile, has long insisted he’s a victim of the scheme, not a co-conspirator; someone who was forced against his will to take part in a PMO ploy — the “monstrous scheme,” he once called it — to mitigate the political damage and make him take the fall.
Email evidence introduced at trial indicates the scheme was known to a number of senior staff members inside the Prime Minister’s Office — a direct contradiction of what Stephen Harper told the House of Commons in June 2013.
“Those were his decisions,” Harper said of the Wright payment at the time. “They were not communicated to me or to members of my office.”
In fact, they were — including Ray Novak, who was working for Wright in February 2013 and replaced him when Wright left the PMO as the payment scheme began to be exposed later that year.
“These are the actions of Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright,” Harper said Friday when asked about it during a campaign stop in Hay River, N.W.T.
“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.”
Bayne is arguing that his client was coerced by the most powerful political figures in the country to go along with the plan, which originally involved the subsidized Conservative party fund footing the bill when it was believed closer to $32,000.
At one point Friday, his frustration was palpable.
“Listen to the question,” Bayne he told Wright.
“You go secretly to the chair of the Conservative fund, you use public funds and taxpayer-donor funds, secretly to arrange to have the fund pay it without telling Canadians, and you think that was principled and ethical to do?”
“The reason that was OK is, the appropriate thing to do with those expenses was to repay them,” Wright said.
“But not with the Conservative fund,” Bayne shot back.
Wright ended up picking up the tab, out of his own pocket, when the cost soared to more than $90,000.
On Thursday, the devoutly religious Wright quoted the Bible to explain his motives.
But Wright was not simply doing “a good deed,” Bayne said. He was motivated by politics, not faith.
“It was done … because you wanted to end the Chinese water torture,” Bayne said.
Wright’s cross-examination continues Monday.