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Rogue Staffers Threatened To Sue When The PMO Took Control Of The "Independent" Mike Duffy Investigation

Two staffers fought back against PMO control and demanded the Senate report into Mike Duffy's expenses be made public, new emails show.

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With a media circus growing around Senator Mike Duffy's expenses in February 2013, the Prime Minister's Office took control. Newly released emails show the PMO gave direct orders to supposedly independent senators and even ghost-wrote a report.

Publicly, the Senate put on a show of independence. Then-Conservative Senate leader Marjory Lebreton insisted "I ran my own shop." When Duffy and other Senators were accused of filing tens of thousands of dollars in inappropriate housing expenses, the Senate's internal economy committee investigated.

But new emails show the PMO was quarterbacking everything behind the scenes. The emails were entered into evidence as Stephen Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright testified at the Duffy trial.

But while Conservative senators were content to go along with it, two Senate staffers were not.

Despite the Conservatives controlling a majority of the Senators on the investigation committee, emails show they were forced to make the Duffy audit public.

"Apparently the clerk and staffer threatened legal action if the full original audit/report was not released," wrote senior PMO staffer Chris Woodcock. "Our members felt the staffer would leak the report."

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The report did come out, but not before the PMO made a litany of changes. Even Stephen Harper himself was involved in shaping the report.

"The PM mentioned to me that this report should say that all Senators are qualified to sit in the Senate on the basis of owning a residence," wrote Woodcock.

In other words, Harper was saying Duffy can't be kicked out of the Senate for not being a real P.E.I. Senator, since Duffy technically owns property there.

Some edits were minor grammatical tweaks, others took out entire paragraphs the PMO didn't like.

Perhaps more importantly, the PMO shut down the study altogether. The two staffers who threatened to sue wanted the investigation to continue. Woodcock directed senators that this was "out of the question."

"I objected to the word 'interim' and said they need to position this as the Committee's (only) report on senators' residency for expense purposes," Woodcock wrote about a meeting with David Tkatchuk, the senator in charge of the report.

Woodcock insisted there could only be one report and Tkatchuk agreed, according to the emails.

"He has committed to this and to showing me any changes they want to make to the report before it is adopted," wrote Woodcock.

Conservative Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen later wrote to the PMO that the clerk, Gary O'Brien, "seems to have his own agenda. Mind you it is a good agenda. He wants to clean up the place."

The PMO may have won the battle but lost the war. The investigation was deferred to the firm Deloitte, who was outside the scope of the PMO's influence. But that doesn't mean PMO staffers didn't try.

PMO staffer Patrick Rogers wrote about Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein having "a channel into Deloitte" who is "open and is happy to continue assisting us."

Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, wrote about making "a proposal" to have Duffy dropped from the Deloitte review if he paid back all the money he owed. Deloitte never went along with this plan.

Duffy did pay his expenses back in the end, with the help of a $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright that police now allege was a bribe.

Blair Gable / Reuters / Via nationalnewswatch.com

Wright was never charged, but Duffy was hit with 31 charges including bribery for accepting the cheque, fraud and breach of trust.

Wright is now testifying at the Duffy trial this week.

Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Paul McLeod at paul.mcleod@buzzfeed.com.

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