Late in the day Tuesday, Senator Mike Duffy’s defence lawyer Donald Bayne presented evidence in his client’s trial that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s top aide, Ray Novak, knew about a $90,000 cheque given to Duffy by Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright.
It was a dramatic moment because the campaigning Conservatives have been answering pointed media questions by stating that Novak, Harper’s current chief of staff, did not know about the payment — even though he was copied on an email that said Wright would be sending the cheque to Duffy’s then-lawyer Janice Payne.
Kory Teneyke, speaking for the party, said Novak had not read that email. Novak told police he didn’t know about Wright’s $90,000 cheque — issued from the independently wealthy Wright’s personal funds to settle Duffy’s disputed Senate expenses — until May, two months later.
Bayne referred to an RCMP interview of Benjamin Perrin, Harper’s former legal counsel, conducted in February 2014.
Perrin told police Novak was in the room — meaning Wright’s office — “at some point” when the repayment was discussed. Novak was also on a conference call with Payne when she was told about Wright’s intention to use his own funds to repay Duffy’s expenses.
Bayne, reading the transcript to the court, said Perrin explained that he had a meeting with Wright on March 21, 2013 in his office. Perrin gave Wright the news he’d learned from Payne — that Duffy was reneging on the agreement to publicly announce he had repaid his expenses. Duffy intended to fight back and had come to believe the Deloitte auditing firm would back him up on his claim his primary residence really was in P.E.I., Perrin said.
It was the first time he’d heard of the decision, Perrin said.
Bayne kept reading. Perrin was adamant in his interview with the RCMP: “Ray was in that meeting and he heard that,” adding he was “shocked” when he read an RCMP production order listing who knew about the payment — a list that didn’t include Novak.
When Bayne asked Wright in cross-examination about Novak’s presence, he replied, “No, Ray wasn’t on the call. He may have dropped into the office for part of it. But he was not on the call.”
Bayne responded: “You know Mr. Perrin’s evidence will be he was on the call throughout?”
“I don’t know that,” said Wright. “That’s just not true.”
Wright told Bayne he’d spoken with Novak two weeks ago in BlackBerry text messages, but added there is no record of the messages — which he said lasted a minute or two.
Although Novak was issued a subpoena by the Crown, Bayne said in court on Tuesday it’s not likely he’ll be called as a witness — meaning the Crown has decided not to call him.
Perrin, who left the Prime Minister’s Office in 2013 to teach at UBC, will appear as a Crown witness later this week. It means he can be cross-examined by Bayne.
Harper has been asked repeatedly on the campaign trail why Novak wasn’t fired if in fact he knew about the Wright repayment. Wright was dismissed because, according to the Conservatives, he secretly repaid Duffy’s expenses from his own funds. Harper replied Tuesday that Novak at the time was a “subordinate.”
Duffy is on trial for 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Three of the charges relate to the money he took from Wright, who has not been charged.