Mike Duffy, at one point, had the keys to the proverbial castle. Now, it's looking like he might get locked up.
The part-time senator for PEI is facing 31 charges of fraud and breach of trust in connection with what police allege was a long-running practise that defrauded taxpayers for over $90,000.
Duffy was claiming housing expenses for his (cottage-like) place in PEI, while actually sitting around in his house in Kanata.
He's not the only senator to allegedly pocket some coin over shady expenses—many in the appointed upper chamber of Parliament say the rules were vague, and they didn't know better—but Duffy's case is the only one with a cover-up scandal.
The prime minister's ex-chief of staff, Nigel Wright, cut the cheque to cover the problematic expenses. That, police say, basically meant Duffy accepted a bribe. Wright, as the other party in that allegedly illegal deal, isn't facing charges.
It's still unclear what the prime minister knew, and when, but Duffy and his lawyer have always swore that once the senator gets his day in court, a lengthy email exchange will be unveiled.
"It will all come out in due course when all of the players are under oath and the e-mail chain can be seen in its entirety," Duffy told the Senate chamber before his suspension last October.
If that happens, it would be disastrous for the prime minister, who has always maintained ignorance in the affair.
For Duffy, the trial is a way to clear his name and prove that he was just a hapless rube, caught up in a witchhunt, then thrown under the bus when he became a liability.
For Stephen Harper, the trial is a grenade with the pin missing. At least two high-ranking fixers in his office are supposed to testify, as well as several of his lieutenants in the Senate. If, under oath, they reveal to the extent to which the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) worked to bury the scandal, Harper may be in trouble. Police already suspect that the PMO was instrumental in trying to bury the shady expenses in the first place.
The whole thing is especially toxic for Harper given the trial—which is expected to wrap in mid-June—comes just months before a federal election is scheduled to kick off.
The most damaging testimony may come from Duffy himself. The former (generally terrible) broadcaster quickly rose to prominence in the Conservative Party after Harper appointed him to the Senate in 2009. He became a critical talking head for the party, and an effective fundraiser.
Duffy even recorded an endless stream of personalized greetings as a truly eerie email fundraising pitch to members.
For Duffy to prove that he wasn't the mastermind—just a pawn—he needs to cough up the evidence he alluded to last year.
"There was an undertaking made by the PMO, with the agreement of the Senate leadership, that I would not be audited by [accounting firm] Deloitte, that I'd be given a pass; and further, that if this phoney scheme ever became public, Senator [Marjory] LeBreton, the leader of the government of the day, would whip the Conservative caucus to prevent my expulsion from the chamber," Duffy told the Red Chamber.
He says that he never even wanted to pay back the $90,000—"I was doing nothing improper," Duffy told Wright when the matter first came up. But, after, what Duffy calls, a campaign of intimidation and extortion from other senators, the media, Wright, current Chief of Staff Ray Novak, and even the prime minister himself, Duffy agreed to the payback scheme.
"We are confident that when the full story is told, as it will be, and shown to be supported by many forms of evidence, it will be clear that Sen. Duffy is innocent of any criminal wrong-doing," Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, told media in an email statement last July when criminal charges were laid against the senator. "The evidence will show, that Sen. Duffy did not want to participate in Nigel Wright's and the PMO's repayment scenario, which they concocted for purely political purposes."
Yet, Duffy had a chance to lay out his whole case in October—anything said by an MP or senator in Parliament is protected by privilege and cannot be used in court—and he declined.
On top of that, police have already obtained and published reams of emails that flew between Duffy, Senate leadership, and the PMO in early 2013. While some prove strong suggestions that the Prime Minister knew and directed much of the skullduggery, there's no real silver bullet.
"I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final," Wright emailed to his office before cutting the $90,000 cheque. Not long after, another email: "we are good to go from the PM once Ben [Perrin, PMO lawyer] has his confirmation from [Duffy's lawyer.]"
That "good to go" has become the most solid evidence for the theory that the prime minister, despite his insistence to the contrary, knew of and signed-off on the plot.
The trial will run from today until May 12, then pick up again on June 1. It's scheduled to end on June 19, but may well be extended. VICE will be following the whole disastrous affair.
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