Stephen Harper’s current chief of staff and close confidant, Ray Novak, was repeatedly told that Nigel Wright was to pay Mike Duffy’s $90,172.24 expenses bill, according to the Prime Minister’s former legal counsel.

Though Mr. Novak has denied ever being told about the payment, Ben Perrin, the former legal counsel to the Prime Minister’s Office, told the RCMP that Mr. Novak was at a meeting where Mr. Wright revealed it – and that Mr. Novak’s knowledge of it is “black and white.”

“Ray was in the meeting, and Ray heard this, and I remember looking at Ray to see his reaction,” Mr. Perrin told the RCMP, according to excerpts of his statement read in court Tuesday by Mr. Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne. Mr. Wright, in earlier testimony before the Perrin excerpts were read, said he recalled Mr. Novak attending only part of the meeting.

It is a contradiction of Mr. Novak’s denials – one that raises new political questions for Mr. Harper, the Conservative Leader, as he campaigns for re-election.

His NDP and Liberal opponents have always expressed skepticism at assertions Mr. Wright had not informed Mr. Harper of his payment before it was revealed by CTV News in May, 2013.

The suggestion that Mr. Novak knew, which appeared to be backed by e-mails presented as evidence in Mr. Duffy’s fraud and bribery trial, holds more potential for political damage, because of his long, close relationship to Mr. Harper.

Mr. Harper’s campaign spokesman, Kory Teneycke, said last week that Mr. Novak learned of the payment at the same time as the PM, and insisted Mr. Novak would have told Mr. Harper if he knew.

“I’ve known Ray for 20 years. It’s unfathomable that Ray would be aware of a payment from Nigel to Mr. Duffy and not tell the Prime Minister. It’s unfathomable,” Mr. Teneycke said. “It’s not the case.”

Mr. Teneycke said last week that Mr. Novak had never read an e-mail that revealed the initial plan to have the Conservative Party pay Mr. Duffy’s expense bill. And he said that Mr. Novak left the meeting before the subject of Mr. Wright’s payment was raised.

Mr. Bayne, however, read from Mr. Perrin’s statement, in which he asserted that Mr. Novak was in the room, and heard of the payment more than once – in no uncertain terms.

Mr. Perrin said he was “shocked” when RCMP affidavits became public and the list of those who had known about the payment did not include Mr. Novak. The RCMP investigator, Constable Greg Horton, indicated that Mr. Novak had told the RCMP he was not aware of the payment, Mr. Bayne said.

But Mr. Perrin said it was “black and white.” He said Mr. Novak attended a brief meeting before a conference call with Mr. Wright and Janice Payne, then Mr. Duffy’s lawyer, in which Mr. Wright revealed he was paying out of his pocket. In addition, Mr. Novak was listening when Mr. Wright spoke of the payment on the call to Ms. Payne. And Mr. Novak was sent an e-mail afterward in which Mr. Wright wrote he would send his cheque the following Monday.

“My testimony is that he was in the meeting,” Mr. Perrin was quoted as telling Constable Horton. “And you have a follow-up e-mail to that meeting, to Ray Novak, where Nigel Wright says I will send my cheque on Monday.”

It also emerged Tuesday that Mr. Wright has kept in touch with Mr. Novak since he left the Prime Minister’s Office in 2013 – and were in contact two weeks ago. Mr. Wright testified that he had exchanged BBM instant messages with Mr. Novak, but that he kept no record of the exchange. Mr. Bayne did not ask what they discussed.

The evidence contradicting Mr. Novak’s claim that he was unaware of the payment immediately rekindled opposition attacks. But on the campaign trail, Mr. Harper had responded to reporters’ questions before Mr. Perrin’s statement was read in court, and repeated his now-familiar statement that only Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright are responsible.

There were other moments in Tuesday’s testimony that raised potential political questions. While Mr. Wright denied “meddling” in an audit of Mr. Duffy’s expenses, he appeared at a loss to explain why the PMO obtained a leak of the auditors’ still-unfinished confidential conclusions through Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein.

Mr. Bayne presented e-mails in which PMO aide Patrick Rogers wrote that Mr. Gerstein was seeking “commitments” from Deloitte about the audit; Mr. Wright testified that was not true, but that he did not bother to correct Mr. Rogers. However, Mr. Gerstein did obtain confidential information about the auditors’ conclusions, and reported it back to the PMO – but Mr. Wright hesitated when pressed about the breach of confidentiality of an independent audit, then said he did not think about that at the time.

Ottawa — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015 4:41PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015 10:53PM EDT