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.
His testimony comes in response to Wilson-Raybould’s statements last week alleging that she felt pressured by the prime minister and his administration not to pursue a criminal investigation against SNC-Lavalin, a massive engineering corporation which has been involved in a number of public works projects in Canada and is accused of fraud and bribery in Libya.
Butts, who has also been Trudeau’s best friend since their university years, suggested on Wednesday that Wilson-Raybould’s allegations came only after her demotion from attorney general to veteran affairs minister, a position from which she resigned last month. Wilson-Raybould argued that she felt her demotion was connected to her decision to continue pursuing an investigation of SNC-Lavalin despite “veiled threats” by senior Liberal officials.
Just yesterday, the Trudeau administration was rocked by the resignation of another Cabinet official, Jane Philpott, who said it was “untenable” for her to remain on and defend the government amid the scandal.
Trudeau has denied any wrongdoing in connection to Wilson-Raybould’s investigation or her demotion. Butts echoed the sentiment at the time of his resignation earlier this month, and again on Wednesday to the House of Commons justice committee.
“I firmly believe nothing inappropriate occurred here and nothing inappropriate was alleged to have occurred until after the cabinet shuffle,” he said, according to The Globe and Mail.
Butts admitted that Trudeau and his staff had encouraged Wilson-Raybould to seek an outside legal opinion from a former Supreme Court of Canada justice to discuss the possibility of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) for SNC-Lavalin. That would allow the company to continue to compete for federal contracts.
Wilson-Raybould said during testimony last week that she had experienced a “consistent and sustained effort” by Liberal officials attempting to persuade her to enact a DPA. She claimed to have cataloged 10 phone calls and 10 in-person meetings during which there were “express statements” made about the potential for “consequences” should she pursue a trial instead.
Butts disagrees on the timeline and nature of the interactions, saying that it was “inconceivable” that anyone in the Prime Minister’s office would act in such a manner, and he said that no government official, Trudeau included, would “direct or ask the attorney general to negotiate a remediation agreement.”
He also claimed that one of the meetings, a two-hour dinner between himself and Wilson-Raybould at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottowa on Dec. 5, was at her request, and was an overwhelmingly positive discussion.
“When you boil this all down, the only thing we ever asked the attorney general to do was to get a second opinion.”