Senator Mike Duffy's lawyer has begun turning over hundreds of emails to the RCMP following a request by the Mounties last Friday to hand over documentation that may prove to be "evidence of criminal wrongdoing by others," CBC News has learned.
In a letter obtained by CBC News on Monday, the RCMP said they were interested in "emails from the [Prime Minister's Office] specifically relating to a script for Senator Duffy to follow in advance of obtaining funds from a RBC loan to repay the Receiver General."
The emails being turned over to the Mounties by Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne are said to be "much more explicit" about the Prime Minister's Office script that Duffy said he was to follow.
Before he was suspended without pay, Duffy alleged in a speech to the Senate last week that he was the victim of a plan concocted by the Prime Minister's Office "to deceive Canadians as to the real source of the $90,000" he used to repay his ineligible expenses last March.
CBC News has learned that in one of the emails being turned over to the RCMP, Duffy recounts a conversation in which Wright supposedly described the PMO's chosen lines and a scenario including "cash for repayment." If so, that could help the Mounties establish whether that cash was an illegal inducement to get Duffy to go along with the alleged script.
News that Duffy's lawyer is turning over emails that are said to bear on Duffy's secret deal with the PMO will undoubtedly put Prime Minister Stephen Harper right back in the opposition's line of fire.
While Harper may have rid himself of three former Conservative senators who had become a thorn in his side, Tuesday's suspension of Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau without pay did not stop the opposition parties from keeping up their attacks on Harper during question period on Wednesday.
Both the Official Opposition New Democrats and the Liberals asked Harper whether key Conservatives had any role in his former chief of staff's decision to repay Duffy's $90,000 in ineligible expenses from his own pocket. Nigel Wright later arranged for the party to pay the embattled senator's legal fees.
"Was JenniByrne [political director of the Conservative Party] aware of the plan to repay Mike Duffy's expenses using Conservative Party funds? Yes or no?" Mulcair asked Harper.
Byrne, whom Mulcair noted has a fearsome reputation, currently works as the deputy chief of staff to the prime minister.
"Without proof, the leader of the NDP is making allegations against people. Clearly Mr. Wright acted alone and accepted responsibility for that," Harper responded.
Commons Speaker intervenes
In a surprising move, House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer intervened on more than one occasion to warn Mulcair to stick to government business, not party business.
"As I heard it, it seemed mostly to deal with party business but I'll let the right honourable prime minister answer," Scheer told the Commons.
The prime minister reiterated that Wright has taken responsibility for his actions and was held accountable.
The leader of the NDP hit back at the Speaker saying, "Just to be clear, perfectly clear, this is about a coverup in the Prime Minister's Office. This is government business. This is the public's business."
NDP MPs erupted in cheers before Mulcair pressed on with another question to Harper.
Mulcair said Wright told the RCMP that Irving Gerstein, a Conservative senator and chief fundraiser for the party, approved the original plan to pay back Duffy's ineligible expenses using party money.
But Gerstein dismissed Wright's version of events during a speech to the party faithful in Calgary last weekend.
"Both can't be true. Did Senator Gerstein lie to Conservative Party members?" Mulcair asked Harper.
The prime minister did not answer the question directly, saying only that Wright made the decision to repay Duffy's ineligible expenses. "That's a decision he took himself," Harper said.
Liberal MP Geoff Regan asked the government whether Chris Woodcock, former director of issues management for Harper, had been contacted by the RCMP.
Woodcock went from working in the Prime Minister's Office to currently serving as chief of staff to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.
Paul Calandra, Harper's parliamentary secretary, did not directly answer the question, saying the Prime Minister's Office will continue to co-operate with authorities.
Calandra added that "Mr. Wright has been very clear on who he brought into his confidence on this matter."
PMO is co-operating with RCMP
Wright told the RCMP, according to court documents filed in July, that he told four people in Harper's office that he was going to write Duffy a cheque: Gerstein, David van Hemmen, Benjamin Perrin, and Woodcock.
On Tuesday, Harper told the Commons his office was not under investigation by the RCMP.
However, in an email to CBC News after question period, a spokesman for the prime minister confirmed police have asked the Prime Minister's Office for documents and the PMO has provided them.
"Yes. We have actively assisted them," said Jason MacDonald, the director of communications for Harper.
The Senate voted Tuesday night to suspend senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin for inappropriate expense claims.
All three senators are under investigation by the RCMP over questionable expense claims.
No charges have been laid.
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