Nobody saw this coming. Were there people who believed it was possible that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and those around him improperly pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould on the SNC-Lavalin file? You bet.
But nobody guessed it would be as bad as Wilson-Raybould said it was during her bombshell testimony on Wednesday. This scandal has become worse than Trudeau’s harshest critics predicted.
“For a period of approximately four months between September and December 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the Attorney General of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with SNC-Lavalin. These events involved 11 people (excluding myself and my political staff) – from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, and the Office of the Minister of Finance. This included in-person conversations, telephone calls, emails, and text messages. There were approximately 10 phone calls and 10 meetings specifically about SNC-Lavalin that I and/or my staff was a part of,” Wilson-Raybould said.
That was just the opening paragraph of an opening statement that lasted over half an hour. During that time, Wilson-Raybould did not present innuendos or rumours or impressions – she offered up detailed accounts of those meetings, phone calls, text messages and more that practically incriminate several of the most senior people in government.
Not only did Wilson-Raybould detail numerous examples of this “consistent and sustained effort” but also explained how she made it to clear to them multiple times that she felt this was inappropriate influence and wanted it to stop.
“I was irritated by having the meeting as I already told the Prime Minister et cetera that DP [deferred prosecution] was not going to happen and that I was not going to issue a directive,” she says of one such incident. Another was a meeting with now former Principal Secretary Gerald Butts where she explicitly tells him to stop pressuring her and then he goes right on pressuring her again a moment later.
Speaking of Butts, it looks like he is the one in the biggest trouble here. Wilson-Raybould cites a text message to her from her Chief of Staff concerning a meeting the latter had with Butts: “Gerry said: Jess there is no solution here that does not involve some interference.”
Wow. A flat out admission of intent to interfere in the justice system. If true, this is not just politically damning but potentially warrants obstruction of justice charges.
Now Butts himself denies any influence in his resignation letter. And Trudeau says he disputes Wilson-Raybould’s “characterization of events”.
It is for these conflicting reasons that there needs to be an RCMP probe, to get to the bottom of this and sort out these competing “perspectives,” to use Trudeau’s current favourite word.
Right now, Wilson-Raybould is the most credible voice at the table. Far more so than Trudeau, whose story keeps changing. Or top bureaucrat Michael Wernick, who gave a masterful but failed attempt at distracting from the issue at hand with his committee testimony theatrics.
A very bad scandal indeed. One with consequences that could very well go beyond the political sphere and into the legal.