Mike Duffy never thought he had erred, defence lawyer argues

Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff described to the fraud trial Friday how he went to the Conservative party war chest for $32,000 to pay back ’s questionable expenses.

As the lunch break approached in a packed Ottawa courtroom, defence lawyer Donald Bayne asked Harper’s former right-hand man, , about the elaborate cash-for-Duffy scheme he and other senior PMO staffers devised to take the political heat off the prime minister – or, as Wright wrote in a memo to his team, to help stop “the Chinese water torture of new facts in the public domain, that the PM does not want.”

For reasons Wright has yet to discuss at trial, the $32,000 eventually grew to a total of $90,000.

Justin Tang/CPJustin Tang/CPMike Duffy arrives at court in Ottawa.

Much of the money in the fund comes from donations to the party from individual Conservative supporters – and also via direct payments from public coffers.

Wright, a wealthy businessman, eventually paid the $90,000 from his own pocket and testified Thursday that he did so according to the teachings of the Bible.

Wright insisted Friday that Duffy had initially agreed to publicly admit his mistake in claiming Prince Edward Island as his primary residence so he could claim expenses for his Kanata home, and pay back an agreed amount of money in exchange for being removed from an expenses audit undertaken by Deloitte.

Bayne maintains that wasn’t true and that the frantic series of emails from Wright and his team, and to and from senior leadership in the Senate, shows that Duffy was always resistant to admitting wrongdoing because he didn’t believe he had done anything wrong.

With a resistant Duffy in the background, Bayne painted a scenario of a prime minister demanding an end to the Duffy-affair fallout while his chief of staff led an effort to – in the words of Ray Novak, another close Harper aide – “staunch the bleeding.”

An email chain introduced by Bayne revealed an early PMO struggle to get Senate Conservative leaders onside and irritation that they were acting independently of the prime minister’s staff in their own efforts to control the growing expenses scandal.

The eventual joint strategy dictated by the PMO resulted in Duffy being “forced” by Wright to comply with a political damage-control deal, said Bayne.

Wright disputed this and said Duffy agreed on a deal, then immediately reneged.

Although Wright told police that he “basically had to force” Duffy into a mea culpa, he testified Friday that he was using a shorthand term. “I was persistent,” he said, in one of numerous disagreements he has had with Bayne over how the lawyer characterizes his role in the Senate affair.

RelatedChristie Blatchford: Revulsion at porkery drove Nigel Wright to make out bank draft for Mike DuffyPMO tried to rewrite Senate audit report to avoid questions about Duffy ’s residence, new emails showNo ‘good deed’: Nigel Wright’s motives weren’t altruistic, says Mike Duffy ’s lawyer

Wright did admit that he became “pissed” with Duffy’s constant refusals to agree to the deal – which the suspended senator eventually did in what Bayne characterizes as a forced “capitulation” by a command-and-control PMO.

Bayne alleges that the entire Duffy scenario was nothing but classic hardball political damage control. But Wright says he was guided by Matthew 6 in the Bible, when he secretly gave Duffy $90,000 to repay Canadian taxpayers for  his questionable expense claims.

That passage essentially advises that charity should not be given publicly or with fanfare and those who give should “not let the left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Harper has said he did not know about the secret $90,000 payment).

Bayne poked again at that explanation Friday and referred to Wright’s use of the phrase “Chinese water torture.”

“That’s not the language of doing the right thing,” he said. “It isn’t Matthew. It’s ending political torture.”

“Yes,” responded Wright.

Duffy faces 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

About Chris Cobb, Postmedia News