Since when is the chief of staff to the prime minister of Canada a person of no consequence?
That Nigel Wright was an insignificant person, just a small fry scoundrel who might be useful bringing down a more important lawbreaker but otherwise not worthy of much attention, is what we are asked to believe by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in a 2014 document, as reported yesterday by The Globe and Mail.
To say this interpretation of RCMP conduct in the force's investigation of bribery allegations against Senator Mike Duffy strains credulity understates the matter.
It is certainly not the simplest explanation for the RCMP’s behaviour -- and, as experience dating back to the beginning of humanity informs us, the simplest explanation is usually right.
The national police force's story -- outlined in the documents obtained by the Globe through freedom-of-information requests -- is that the Mounties didn't charge Wright for giving $90,172 of his own money to Duffy to pay off politically embarrassing expenses because they thought they could use the testimony of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff to convict the senator.
Anyway, the documents say, the Mounties doubted they could get a court to convict Wright and they thought Duffy was the more important target.
This explains -- or, at least, provides an explanation -- why the police charged the alleged recipient of the bribe but ignored the person without whom there could have been no bribe, a legal sleight of hand that boggled the minds of most Canadians who were paying attention.
"The decision by the investigative team is that it is in the public interest to secure convictions on the charges against Senator Duffy,” said one document, written by former RCMP superintendent Biage Carrese in April 2014 and delightfully and accurately entitled 'Investigation of Nigel Wright Gifting $90K to Senator Duffy." Gifting!
"Charges against Mr. Wright could in fact inadvertently weaken a case against Senator Duffy, who is the primary focus of this investigation,” wrote lead investigator Sergeant Greg Horton in the other document uncovered by the Globe.
That much is certainly true. There can be no doubt Duffy was the primary focus of the Mounties' efforts.
But the next claim quoted by the Globe -- "it would serve the public interest best for Mr. Wright to remain an unindicted co-conspirator, compelled to provide testimony against Senator Duffy" -- is harder to swallow.
We are informed the Mounties had considered multiple charges against Wright, including breach of trust and bribery. The RCMP explanation about why no charges were brought against the PM's chief of staff would make sense only if they'd also decided not to lay any charges against Duffy.
In any event, the RCMP strategy obviously failed. On April 21st this year, Ontario Justice Charles Vaillancourt found Duffy not guilty of all 31 charges of fraud that he faced, and excoriated the conduct of the Prime Minister’s Office for "mind boggling and shocking" conduct.
"I find based on all of the evidence that Senator Duffy was forced into accepting Nigel Wright's funds so that the government could rid itself of an embarrassing political fiasco that just was not going away," the judge said in his verdict.
Obviously, when a high official in the service of the prime minister is suspected of bribing public officials or breaching the public's trust, the public's interest demands that it be dealt with thoroughly and forcefully!
How can anyone -- least of all officers of the law -- argue that letting such activities go unchallenged serves the public? This is preposterous on its face! Because Wright truly was a big shot.
The simple explanation -- much more persuasive, although not necessarily true -- is that the prosecution of Duffy was from the start politically motivated, done in the service of Harper's Conservative government and intended to punish the senator for politically embarrassing the PMO.
The further decision of the Mounties not to question a notoriously micro-managing prime minister on the grounds there was no evidence he knew anything about the $90,172 payment evokes an organization with political objectives, not legal ones.
Alas, among a multitude of sins, the RCMP has a history of intervening in political matters on the side of conservative politicians. No one would be surprised if it turned out this had happened again.
In this case, the force's explanation doesn't quite pass the sniff test.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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