OTTAWA — Former Canadian Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould taped at least one key conversation with the Trudeau government’s top bureaucrat, evidence that backs up her testimony that she was being pressured to judicially interfere on behalf of Quebec contractor SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould was speaking to Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick, who was passing on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s instructions on how the attorney general could have fraud and bribery charges against the firm deferred. The controversy has become a major scandal for the Trudeau government. Wilson-Raybould resigned from the Trudeau cabinet after she was shuffled out of the justice portfolio and given veterans affairs.
The former attorney general and minister of justice submitted the recording to the House of Commons Justice Committee this week and it was released Friday. Wilson-Raybould’s words confirm what she told the committee in testimony in February. She warned Wernick on several occasions that any intervention on her part to protect SNC-Lavalin would amount to political interference. (RELATED: Canadian Treasury Board Secretary Resigns Over Scandal)
“This is not a great place for me to be in,” Wilson-Raybould told Wernick in the recorded phone call. “But what I am confident of is that I have given the Prime Minister my best advice to protect him and to protect the constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence.”
Wernick indicated that Wilson-Raybould didn’t understand Trudeau’s determination to assist the contractor.
“Alright, but … I am worried about a collision then because he is pretty firm about this,” Wernick replied, referring to Trudeau. “I just saw him a few hours ago and this is really important to him.” (RELATED: Trudeau Apologizes For Mocking First Nations Protest: ‘Thank You For Your Donation’)
The minister discussed the issue of SNC-Lavalin deserving special attention because it provided significant employment.
“This goes far beyond saving jobs,” she said. “This is about the integrity of the prime minister and interference. There’s no way that anybody would interpret this as anything but interference if I were to step in. It doesn’t matter how I would look … the bigger problem is what it would look like down the road for the government.”
Wernick told Wilson-Raybould that he was “a bit worried.” The attorney general asked, “A bit worried about what?” He responded by saying that she was at “loggerheads” with the prime minister.
Wilson-Raybould explained, “I am trying to protect the prime minister from political interference, perceived or otherwise.”
Wernick told the justice minister, “I have to report back [to the prime minister.]”
On Friday, the Prime Minister’s Office claimed Trudeau was not briefed on the conversation.
“The Prime Minister was not briefed by the Clerk on his conversation with Jody Wilson-Raybould, and we were unaware of the full contents of this recording before today,” according to a statement.
The bad news continues for Trudeau as a poll this week indicated his approval among Canadians has dropped to 40 percent.