Stephen Harper's assertion that the prime minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, acted alone when he gifted Senator Mike Duffy $90,000 is becoming extremely difficult to believe.
CTV News is now reporting that they've seen emails which suggest that Wright "consulted with" at least two senior Conservative senators while negotiating Duffy's payout.
The emails, seen by CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife, reveal that Harper’s former right-hand man, Nigel Wright, consulted with David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen – two senators who were overseeing what was supposed to be an independent audit of Duffy’s expenses.
Tkachuk allegedly told Duffy that if he went along with Wright’s bailout offer, the Senate committee would throw out the residency issue and go easy on him in the audit of his expenses.
Stewart Olsen, especially, has close ties to the prime minister. The former Preston Manning staffer served as Harper's director of strategic communications until she was appointed to the upper chamber in 2009.
Both Stewart Olsen and Tkachuk have been criticized for allegedly whitewashing Duffy's audit report. In May, the Canadian Press reported that several sections of the draft document were redacted including a reference about Duffy's failure to co-operate with auditors.
Both senators deny any wrongdoing.
[ Related: The embattled Mac Harb retires from the Senate ]
This story, coupled with the RCMP affidavit that alleges that 3 senior staffers at the PMO knew about the $90,000 cheque should be very troubling for Conservative party strategists looking to 'change the channel.'
The question Canadians will soon be asking themselves is this: Was Stephen Harper lying or did he really not know what his senior advisers and confidants were up to with regard to Nigel Wright's $90,000 gift to Senator Mike Duffy?
Either way, these stories are a hit to the Stephen Harper brand.
Update: 1 p.m.
Both Senator Stewart Olsen and Tkachuk have told the Globe and Mail that the CTV News story isn't true.
Ms. Stewart Olsen denies the CTV report, saying she spoke with Mr. Wright often in the course of her duties, but was never told about any repayment plan. “I deny that I knew anything about Nigel Wright paying Mike Duffy $90,000,” Ms. Stewart Olsen told The Globe Tuesday.
Through his office, Mr. Tkachuk said Tuesday the “conversation in question never took place” and is “a complete fabrication.” His office said Mr. Tkachuk is out of the country and not doing interviews.
(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)
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