Gerald Butts asks to testify on SNC-Lavalin scandal

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former top adviser Gerald Butts has written to the House of Commons Justice Committee requesting to testify on the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

He says he watched Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony— in which she alleges that she faced high-level « veiled threats » and political interference in the criminal prosecution of the Quebec construction and engineering company— and he believes that his evidence « will be of assistance. »

In a letter he has posted to Twitter, he says that he needs « a short period of time » to receive legal advice about producing his elements and relevant documents to the committee.

This is a breaking news update. Previous version follows.

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OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is still undecided on whether or not Jody Wilson-Raybould will continue to have a place in the Liberal caucus after her stunning testimony in which she said she faced high-level « veiled threats » and political interference in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

« I have taken knowledge of her testimony and there’s still reflections to have on next steps, » Trudeau said Thursday. He went on to say that he remains focused « on the things that really matter to Canadians. »

On her way out of the committee on Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould was asked if she will remain in the Liberal caucus. She said she will continue to serve as the MP for Vancouver-Granville, and that she doesn’t « anticipate being kicked out of caucus. »

« I was elected by the constituents of Vancouver-Granville to represent them as a Liberal Member of Parliament, » she said.

Hours later when, Trudeau was asked if she still had a place in the Liberal caucus, and whether he would sign her nomination papers, he said that he had yet to watch her entire testimony and his decision would be based on that.

Though, he did say that he was sure that he « completely » disagreed with her characterization of events and that he and his staff did not act inappropriately. He said that the Liberal party will always be concerned about, and stand up for jobs.

In her more-than-30-minute opening statement before the House Justice Committee, Wilson-Raybould directly implicated the prime minister as she detailed chronologically a series of communications with her office from 11 people, including senior staffers from Trudeau’s office, the Privy Council Office and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s office.

Wilson-Raybould said she was subjected to a « sustained effort » between September and December of 2018, to pressure her into doing what she could as then-attorney general to instruct federal prosecutors to drop the criminal prosecution of the Quebec construction and engineering giant and pursue a remediation agreement instead.

She refused to change her mind amid this alleged « hounding, » which she said included consistently being reminded of the potential political and job implications in Quebec.

Wilson-Raybould recalled a series of these interactions, based off notes she made and her own « clear » memory. One such instance was a text conversation she had with her then-chief of staff Jessica Prince about a meeting Prince had with then-principal secretary Gerald Butts, and Trudeau’s Chief of Staff Katie Telford.

Wilson-Raybould quoted her staffer as telling her that Butts had allegedly said: « Jess, there is no solution here that doesn’t involve some interference. »

Butts resigned on Feb. 18 amid this scandal. He has denied any wrongdoing and said he was leaving because he had become a distraction.

« At all times, I and those around me acted with integrity and a singular focus on the best interests of all Canadians, » Butts said in his statement. « Any accusation that I or the staff put pressure on the Attorney General is simply not true, » he said.

Trudeau told reporters on Thursday that the last time he had spoken with Butts was two days after he resigned « to check in on my friend and see how he was doing. »

On Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould said she believes that she was shuffled out of the justice portfolio in January as a result, though Trudeau once again stated on Thursday that the decisions made in a cabinet shuffle « involves many factors. »

Trudeau said that the « primary » reason was the resignation of longtime Liberal Scott Brison, and had he not have left the front bench, Wilson-Raybould would still be the minister of justice and attorney general.

Trudeau also said that to his knowledge none of the 11 people who Wilson-Raybould alleges were involved in the political interference in the SNC-Lavalin case have been contacted by the RCMP.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called for Trudeau’s resignation and said that the RCMP must « immediately » investigate what he called « numerous examples of obstruction of justice. »

During the questioning, Wilson-Raybould suggested that future testimony from the senior officials she had named in her opening statement would be important to the committee’s work. Previous attempts from the opposition to call many of those she has named were voted down by the Liberal members on the committee.

Asked whether he’d let these people testify before the House Justice Committee, Trudeau said he will respect the independence of the committee and said he would « participate fully » in the investigation that the Federal Ethics Commissioner has undertaken on this scandal.

« Canadians need to know that we have an officer of Parliament who is tasked with a specific role to make sure that in questions where there are disagreements amongst politicians, amongst elected officials, there is an arbiter who is empowered to be like a judge… who will make a determination in this issue, » Trudeau said.

« So while political parties and various people are making, or trying to draw a lot of attention to this issue, there is a process… that will make a determination on what actually happened here so Canadians can be reassured that out intuitions continue to function, so that our governments function in accordance with the rule of law, and that we continue to stay focused on the things that really matter to Canadians, » he said.

I just made the following request of the Justice Committee Chair. pic.twitter.com/MUCJwnldui

— Gerald Butts (@gmbutts) February 28, 2019

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