It was a sort of twist on a “worlds colliding” storyline; in one day, one was able to watch seven riveting hours of two committee hearings, in front of two justices committees, with two different witnesses. Different issues, different countries, but both witnesses trying to heave over their respective political institutions, both, like moths having now apparently seen the light and have been drawn to the flame of righteousness.
One claimed that he had now realized his past lies and deceptions, and now felt the need to tell the truth. His jail sentence about to begin in a couple of months adding to the drama, and no doubt his ability to easily appear in public may be hindered by incarceration. The truth he told was that he had lied and cheated on behalf of his President, the President of the United States.
The other witness, was wanting to speak “her truth”. Not a singular truth, “her truth”. A woman scorned apparently, removed from her dream portfolio and her dreams of promoting the indigenous agenda on behalf of Canadians flattened by a vengeful Prime Minister; removed because she claimed that she had failed to buckle under political pressure and interference in the judicial process. At least that was her story. She too had found the path to righteousness.
In viewing these committee hearings it is often difficult to narrow in on that stated truth as the political grandstanding in both these committee rooms was in full bloom. Difficult for the viewing public to try and draw some conclusion as to who was telling the truth; a he/ he said, or a he/she/he said quandary. The facts too often twisted and turned to fit the reporting or political agendas.
Of course, one of these individuals we are talking about is Michael Cohen. A fixer of problems in the sordid world of blackmail and sexual impropriety, aided by dispensing copious amounts of money, all in the effort keep the President from being tarnished. In the end his success at fending off the “fake news” could be debated.
The other, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Attorney General and Justice Minister for the Government of Canada under Trudeau and the Liberals. She is claiming that she resigned under pressure from her boss and his political cabal, that she was being pressured to interfere with the Judicial process in an effort to make a good deal for the business and Quebec based conglomerate SNC-Lavalin.
In our effort to get to the truth in both cases, we should judge both of these individuals by three criteria; the criteria that is practised in most criminal or civil cases and told to most juries. That is, that anytime one is being asked to judge or weigh evidence, one should consider the following criteria.
Credibility. Does the witness appear or come across as credible?
Corroboration. Can any evidence of the witness be corroborated?
And finally, what are their motives, does the witness have a possible agenda, or an ulterior motive in coming forward? Strong motives have a tendency to warp the truth.
These principles of truthfulness apply to any judgement or determination that one is trying to make, whether it be on the gangster turned witness or a domestic dispute in family court.
Let’s first deal with Mr. Cohen as he seems to be the most black and white out of the characters, and like most men, somewhat easier read.
Cohen confessed to previous lies, previous deceptions, previously aiding the President to hide his misogynistic exploits, and altering tax returns to help the President. One may or may not be surprised by the depth of the loyalty he had shown. He was Trump’s “personal lawyer” for ten years, but solicitor client privilege went out the window when Prosecutors from two different offices began to put their feet on his neck.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould, is also a lawyer, who despite a paper thin resume, leapt to the top of the political food chain, aided no doubt by the fact that she was a woman, but more importantly an indigenous woman. She was given a substantial and powerful Ministry despite this very limited judicial experience, a combined portfolio of Justice Minister and Attorney General. As the Attorney General she oversaw the Public Prosecution Service who was overseeing the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
“A little over three years” by her own admission was the height of her legal career working in the Crown office at 222 Main St in Vancouver where she no doubt handled copious amounts of theft, shoplifting and minor assault files; but nothing much larger than that. From there she she went on to work as Regional Chief for the B.C. Assembly of First Nations. With this limited legal background she was placed overseeing the broad and often complicated mandate of Canadian law and its applications. It would be like making a four year officer the Chief of Police, or the Commissioner of the RCMP.
She was both in practise and in theory effectively a one issue Minister, an activist lawyer for Indigenous rights. One must keep this in mind when we consider the eventual outcomes.
So what was Mr Cohen’s motive? He had already pled guilty to criminal offences, for which he will be going to jail. His reputation has been effectively destroyed, at least for the near future. He could maybe expect some leniency in sentencing, which will happen in about a month, but the Special Prosecutor has already written a letter on his behalf in terms of his assistance in their investigation. It would seem that he has little to gain at this stage.
His sole motivation seems to be to try and salvage his tattered reputation and come out a bit on the good side if at all possible. He also seems to enjoy the attention.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould motive? A little more difficult to figure out.
What was covered in the hearing to some degree was that she was demoted from her job as Attorney General and the Minister of Justice, and she believed that her being moved was the result of her refusal to bow to political pressure. She clearly was angry on her removal from being the Attorney General. Several members of the press during the time of the swearing in ceremonies even commenting on her clearly obvious stone-faced cold demeanour. She went from in her words “her dream job” and being in one of the most powerful Cabinet positions, to a 2nd tier cabinet post, usually reserved for those on the way up or on the way out.
Clearly Ms. Wilson-Raybould may have had revenge in mind, both on her Prime Minister and those around him. It seems as likely a motive as any. There is little doubt that she decided to come forward only after being demoted. If she had remained as Attorney General, we would not have heard any of these allegations of wrongdoing, and she would have been campaigning for Trudeau and the Liberals. She still remains in the Liberal caucus although she has told everyone that now she has no confidence in the Prime Minister.
The one question that was never asked of her was whether or not she leaked the story to the Globe and Mail. Was she the “unnamed source”? Gerald Butts in his testimony made reference to being contacted by the Globe and Mail for the requisite media reaction, and he said that the reporter seemed to be describing the one and only meeting he had with Ms. Raybould at the Chateau Laurier. There were only two of them there, and if she or someone close to her did leak the story, revenge would be confirmed as her sole motivation and may have actually put her in a precarious legal position. Mysteriously no one questioned this possible angle.
If revenge was her motive, then her statements should be viewed in a more severe light.
Lets now consider corroboration. Mr. Cohen produced some supporting documents, such as income tax reports, and the payments to the female dalliances. He named others that were in the room and almost dared the committee to bring them forward. He has also gone on record in several court room appearances, and as mentioned before, the Special Counsel’s office, who would have tried to corroborate his evidence.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould used her “self-made” notes of these occasions, braggingly asserting that she always takes copious notes, and early on had instructed her Chief of Staff to take detailed notes on anything to do with SNC. When asked if the Committee could have those notes, she said she would take it under advisement. However, her direct quotes, as they normally do, came across as being accurate and irrefutable. However, equally noted was the fact that there may have been other references in her notes she did not wish exposed.
In an opening statement of some fifty minutes and then four and a half hours of questioning and clarification Ms Wilson-Raybould went over how she had received a Section 13 note from the Director of Public Prosecutions which detailed the reasons they decided that they would go ahead with the prosecution and not the Deferred Prosecution Agreement.
It is a private document so the contents of the reasoning put forward has not seen the light of examination. This was around September 12th 2018 and Ms Raybould was on vacation in Australia, and returned to Ottawa on the 16th of September, and stated that by September 18th or 19th she concurred with the Director and they would go ahead with the Criminal prosecution. As she emphatically said throughout the hearing, she had therefore, “made up her mind” after a couple of days of review.
This becomes a central issue because even though she said she made up her mind, after meeting with the PM and the Clerk of the Privy Counsel Office, she agreed to further meetings with Michael Wernick and the Deputy Minister of Justice. She even said that SNC could write her a letter that she would forward to the Public Prosecution Office.
Gerald Butts testified that he was not aware of her having “made up her mind” until her testimony before the Judicial committee. She herself stated that at no time did she tell the PM, the Clerk of the Privy Counsel Office, or the PMO that she had made up her mind and that she was not interested in discussing it further. She also stated that at no time did she think anything was being done illegally, which one would assume means that there was no obstruction of justice taking place.
She then detailed twenty “points of contact” which were ten phone calls and ten meetings over the next few months; from September to December 2018, where she felt she was pressured by both the PMO, the PMO staffers, and the Clerk of the Privy Counsel Office to consider a relatively new tool in the prosecution briefcase, a Deferred Prosecution Agreement.
It would seem that Ms Wilson-Raybould was playing two sets of cards; one appearing to be compliant and interested in other options, while at the same time stating privately that she thought this was political interference. Even in her one and only meeting with Butts, she prompted the two hour dinner, not him, and was texting friendly notes before and after the meeting. He says that she only brought up SNC Lavalin near the very end of the dinner, that most of the conversation pertained to other indigenous issues, which is very much in keeping with her priorities, and therefore logical.
After seeing the outcry over GM in Oshawa of 1500 jobs, it is not much of a stretch to say that the government would be worried in terms of public policy, and whether a DPA option would be a more suitable outcome. Keep in mind that this is not a get out of jail free card as some have put out there, it is simply a guilty plea but limits the effects on the company itself, its shareholders, contractors, and invested pension funds. It was a plea agreement proposal. What this all came down to was whether speaking about the secondary political issues to an Attorney General around a prosecution was in fact interference?
Ms Wilson-Raybould testified as to “veiled threats”; references to finding a “solution”; a direct confrontation with the PM as to whether he was politically interfering? She admitted that he said, no, that he affirmed that it was her decision, and in her own words there was nothing illegal about this pressure, but that it was “inappropriate”.
Lets also keep in mind that Ms Wilson-Raybould had no problem interfering in the Colten Boushie/Gerald Stanley case in Saskatchewan. She had no problem eventually amending the law to alter the jury selection process to appease the Indigenous activists over this case, and passed Bill C-75.
This is also the same Minister who has offered up Section 35 Directives for three different issues– HIV, Terrorism, and of course, where she directed the Department of Justice on Indigenous Litigation. This latter Directive issued by this Justice Minister is an interesting document considering her apparent principle of not interfering in the judicial process.
In this directive she is directing the Department of Justice. She states that “the Attorney General may seek to intervene in cases that raise important issues, particularly ones that may affect reconciliation”. It goes on, and enforces or “ensures its relationships with indigenous peoples..rights to self-determination, including the inherent right of self-government”. So a former advocate for the Assembly of First Nations is issuing a directive dealing with and enforcing indigenous rights. Is Trudeau advocating for his constituents and jobs in Quebec any different? Are they both not clear conflicts of interest?
So her stated reluctance to interfere in the judicial process seems at least a little bit suspect.
She feels she should not have been put under this pressure, which for the most part centred on their asking for at least an outside legal opinion before she proceeded. This suggestion does not seem illogical, it is common practise. (She did not seem to have problems asking for legal advice as to what she could testify to) She also blocked a Deputy Minister of Justice report that was supposed to be sent to the PMO. Why? Was she worried about a counter opinion to hers?
She was asked whether the subsequent quitting of the Cabinet and the Veterans Affairs Ministry was the result of this pressure. She said she could not comment on this as it being of Cabinet privilege, although Butts and Wernick did not seem to be similarly constrained, even though the latter two were both under the same guidelines.
This was very convenient for her. She did not mention that she had in fact been offered the Department of Indigenous Affairs, not Veterans Affairs.
This is a big difference in light of the all-consuming importance this Liberal government puts on Indigenous issues (even creating its own Ministry). It made perfect sense to put her in this portfolio, and it would not have been considered a demotion. This totally crushes the theory that she was demoted because of her principled stand on SNC, and therefore hurt her credibility in terms of the political narrative that she was pushing.
It is pretty apparent that Ms Wilson-Raybould brought this forward because she was angry. She wanted to keep this “dream job”, and when told by the PM expressed shock and confronted him in saying that this was about other issues, i.e. SNC Lavalin. Both the PM and Butts who was listening in, said no, it was a logical choice and it had been spurred by the retiring of Scott Bryson. They said they were surprised by this statement. The phone call ended.
A few days later she turned down the Indigenous Affairs job, because she now stated that she could have nothing to do with running a Ministry that oversaw the Indian Act. Would the Justice Ministry and the Attorney General’s office not have to on occasion enforce the Indian Act? Was she not responsible for carrying out all laws in this country?
They then offered her Veterans Affairs, which she took, was sworn in, and then quit that as well. Swearing allegiance to the Liberals and the PM during the swearing in ceremony, but in a few days losing confidence in this same group.
Her partner and friend, Jane Philpott, who was offered Treasury Board, was “excited” according to the Prime Minister when she took the job and then abruptly also quit a little while later; in defence apparently of Wilson-Raybould. She was the previous Minister of Indigenous Affairs, and interestingly offered up the fact that Ms Raybould would be upset, and would think that her shuffle was because of SNC Lavalin, before it was mentioned by Ms Wilson-Raybould.
Both expressed an inability to have confidence in their leader Mr. Trudeau, but both seemingly want to stay Liberals. The press are forever asking Trudeau as to why he would leave them in caucus. Philpott and Wilson-Raybould are rarely asked to defend their staying in the Liberal caucus.
The Conservatives and the NDP loved Ms Wilson-Raybould. They had after all found the holy grail, one that would lead them to the promised land, to an election where they had a chance of being elected. The Liberals are confused, angry with these allegations and besmirching of their cause, but don’t want to appear to be against the two women, who after all are still standing in their midst.
The press revelled in the “principled” and “brave” Jody Wilson-Raybould. while her indigenous father, ridiculously screamed racism from the sidelines. The story line being that the nasty Trudeau and his cronies had blackballed this outstanding example of an exemplary brave indigenous cabinet minister.
It was eye-opening to see the Press pick and choose their subject lines, often ignoring what the actual evidence that had been stated; which you would only know if you sat for all of the testimony. They pushed the dramatic elements of confrontation. The CBC was buffeted by the winds of Trudeau slamming on the one hand, while at the same time wanting to defend the “principled” Wilson-Raybould. (As an aside, Ms. Philpott is married to a CBC radio journalist)
Mr. Scheer not to be left behind in the expressions of shock, called for the resignation of the Prime Minister. No need for further witnesses in his opinion, Ms Wilson-Raybould was a “compelling” and “truthful” witness. He accepted all of her testimony as gospel. Why would she lie? After all she had her own notes to fall back on.
The two male witnesses who at times claimed a totally different narrative, often backed up by surrendered text messages, were not to be believed. One the head of the PMO and the other the head of the PCO. Both of long-standing duration in government, both articulate, and both telling a different version of the events.
Both expressed confusion as to what had been termed “inappropriate”, in fact both testified as to the need in this case to speak to the public policy surrounding this decision. Both said they were unaware of any “inappropriate” discussions, and both confirmed that neither had been told by Wilson-Raybould’s decision being set in concrete. Wilson-Raybould admitted that she never told either of these parties or the PM of her concern about the interference directly.
But apparently their evidence was not to be believed. Their truth was not her truth.
There is little doubt that the Liberals wanted her to consider alternative prosecution. The Liberals are very tied to the SNC conglomerate, and have been for many years. It is also true that the Liberals consider themselves the defenders of Quebec, so anything affecting jobs in Quebec, a political haven, was serious. They were too smart to direct Ms Wilson-Raybould, so they offered up other meetings in an attempt to persuade, and cajole, and even pushed her into seeking an outside legal opinion. Their intentions were political and thus they were attempting to alter the judicial outcome, it was in their political interest.
Does anyone believe this does not go on, on a regular basis? Does anyone believe for example, that the oil companies have not been lobbying regarding the pipeline; does anyone believe that the Indigenous are doing backroom deals in terms of that same pipeline? Does anyone believe that the Prosecution office does not take politics into consideration? (read my previous blog). We can and should not be that naive, there is always a need to ask questions.
It is wrong in principal. There should be a line that can not be crossed. But normally in Canada we are wilfully blind to these shenanigans.
Was that line crossed in this case? It may never be fully known. What is apparent though in reviewing both of these witnesses is that evidence of Ms Wilson-Raybould should at the very least be tested, her motivations were not pure, nor principled. Principles can not be brought out only when convenient.
So who of the two were the most credible? Cohen or Wilson-Raybould?
In this case, if sitting on the jury, and objectively measuring truthfulness of these witnesses through the lens of corroboration and motivation, the confirmed liar Mr. Cohen may have outdone the righteous Minister, and he may be the most believable.
Carol Goman who wrote the book, “Silent Language of Leaders” says men are often more boastful, but men and women equally lie, it all “depends on the destructive effect of the the lie being told”.
Photo “Black and White Justice” courtesy of Phil Roeder via Flickr Commons Some Rights Reserved
First, a correction. A reader informed me that Jody Wilson-Raybould actually received the S.13 notice from the Prosecutor on September 4 not 12th as I reported, and then returned home on the 12th. She testified that she had her mind made up by Sept 16th, two working days after returning home.
Of course, since I wrote this blog, other developments have occurred. The tide seems to be swinging a little against Ms Raybould, with the leak that she and Trudeau had an earlier disagreement over Judge selection with her not getting her way in terms of the appointment. Her apparent recommendation for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of Queens Bench. If that had happened the broader plan was then to replace Joyal with an “Indigenous” Chief Justice for Manitoba Queens Bench. Many are demanding an investigation into the leak of this investigation, including Ms. Raybould. Of course, she did not demand an investigation on the earlier Globe and Mail leak, which of course benefitted her position and office, and started this whole thing rolling along.
If this is true, there is a great deal of more credence given to the theory that JWR was upset with Trudeau who rejected her Chief Justice bid. Makes it all the more plausible that she was angry over her move, nothing more, and she decided to hit back.
The drama continues.