Former senior Trudeau aide defends prime minister in testimony on scandal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a Liberal Climate Action Rally in Toronto Monday

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a Liberal Climate Action Rally in Toronto Monday

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau did not inappropriately pressure a former justice minister to grant a legal favour to a firm facing a criminal trial, a former senior aide has said.

Butts also testified that based on his experience with the Clerk of the Privy Council over three-and-a-half years, he couldn't picture Michael Wernick bringing up partisan political considerations in his private discussions with Wilson-Raybould over the SNC-Lavalin case.

A onetime senior aide to Justin Trudeau, Gerald Butts, defended the Canadian Prime Minister in a testimony given to the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday, arguing that there was no misconduct involved in the dismissal of former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, or in her investigation into engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

SNC-Lavalin faces fraud charges relating to bribes the company is said to have offered to Libyan officials to influence the awarding of contracts between 2001 and 2011.

"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", she testified.

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She claims there were attempts at political meddling in matter.

Opposition members are also upset the Liberals voted down a motion to recall Jody Wilson-Raybould to committee.

Wilson-Raybould resigned from Cabinet last month after being demoted to veteran affairs minister the month before.

During her testimony, Wilson-Raybould alleged that she faced high-level "veiled threats" and "sustained" political interference from almost a dozen senior officials between September and December 2018 - including Wernick and former principal secretary Gerald Butts - to seek a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin, which is facing bribery and corruption charges over business dealings in Libya. There's always many sides to a story and we have Ms. Wilson-Raybould's testimony last Wednesday.

Wilson-Raybould said that being attorney general and justice minister was her "dream job", Butts testified, and that she wanted to remain in that post. "I want to thank her for her service", Trudeau said at a campaign-style event.

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Butts rejected all the key evidence Wilson-Raybould had presented to the justice committee last week. He walked the committee through the chronology she presented last week: that she learned of the DPP decision on Sept. 4, while she was out of the country, then she returned on Sept. 12 and her mind was made up by Sept. 16.

SNC-Lavalin, its global arm and another subsidiary are accused of having offered $36m in bribes to Libyan officials and of defrauding the Libyan government of $96m. "I find that even less credible given the fact I am alleged to have done things I know I didn't do", Butts said. Wilson-Raybould has herself said that she didn't think the pressure was illegal. Wilson-Raybould had the power to scrap the decision to go to trial, but decided against it.

Butts said he was startled when he learned that Wilson-Raybould felt the secret talks had threatened the independence of the criminal justice system.

So, no hard feelings, no pointing fingers or anything, but if that witch Wilson-Raybould had just shut up, sat down, and done as she was told by the people who matter, we wouldn't be in this stinking mess to begin with. So far, other Liberal Cabinet ministers are rallying around him.

And the first Trudeau protester wasn't alone; another female protester soon interrupted the prime minister, accusing him of trying to silence "a Native woman's voice", and once again things got chaotic.

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