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FUREY: How the SNC-Lavalin messaging unravelled

"It’s not so much the crime but the cover-up."

As the old saying goes, it’s not so much the crime but the cover-up. And the attempt to cover-up, or at least explain away, the SNC-Lavalin mess is a lesson in how not to do things.

After the story first broke in The Globe & Mail that Jody Wilson-Raybould, when Attorney General, was pressured to drop charges against the firm, here’s what Trudeau said: “The allegations reported in the story are false. At no time did I or my office direct the current or previous attorney-general to make any particular decision in this matter.”

Reporters on the ground immediately pounced on how the question wasn’t whether he directed the AG but whether he pressured or influenced the AG. Trudeau stuck to his story though, not offering clarity but still claiming it was “false”.

The PMO then sent out a number of MPs to parrot this line of defence and Trudeau himself kept it up. That was all two weeks ago. Then a week ago, Trudeau said something different:

“There were many discussions going on. Which is why Jody Wilson-Raybould asked me if I was directing her, or going to direct her, to take a particular decision and I, of course, said no, that it was he decision to make and I expected her to make it. I had full confidence in her role as attorney general to make the decision,” the PM said.

A funny line, that. He’s admitting that they talked about the broad idea of how he could be directing her to make a certain decision but denies that he specifically did direct her to make that decision. And we’re supposed to buy that?

It brings to mind those scenes in crime movies when the mob boss says “The choice is up to you, I will keenly await your decision” as a bunch of goons stand around cracking their knuckles.

All that went out the window on Thursday though, when Michael Wernick – Canada’s top public servant who is tasked with implementing the PM’s agenda – basically fessed up that there was indeed pressure but it was “lawful advocacy” (whatever the hell that means) instead of “inappropriate pressure”.

See what happened there? The story has gone from “false” to “yes, it happened but we don’t think it’s a big deal”. Talk about an excuse unravelling in real time.

Now it would be one thing if this story was, say, the one about Trudeau groping a reporter 18 years ago. Like with this story, the PM was shifty in how he described the event. But the two scandals are very different.

The grope one is about whether the PM is a hypocrite on his feminism and whether or not he applies different standards to others accused of sexual harassment and assault than he does to himself.

The grope story isn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things in terms of rocking people’s faith in our public institutions.

The SNC-Lavalin story however?

It’s about questions over whether or not top politicians and bureaucrats can attempt to influence the justice system and get away with it. And now we’ve seen their side of the story unravel.

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