Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, wants to give his side of the story in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Butts wrote the House of Commons justice committee Thursday, requesting he be called as a witness.
His request came one day after former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould testified that she faced relentless pressure — and even veiled threats — from Trudeau, senior prime-ministerial aides, Canada’s top public servant and the finance minister’s office to interfere in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. Butts was among those she accused of inappropriate pressure tactics.
The Liberal-dominated committee announced later that it will invite Butts to appear next Wednesday or soon thereafter and will also recall Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, and Nathalie Drouin, the deputy minister of justice, both of whom testified last week before Wilson-Raybould levelled specific accusations involving them.
Butts said he believes he has evidence that will help the committee get to the bottom of the affair. He added that he will need a short time to receive legal advice and compile relevant documents before testifying.
Trudeau’s longtime friend and most trusted adviser resigned as his principal secretary last week amid the mushrooming controversy over the government’s attempts to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial on charges of bribery and corruption related to its bid to secure contracts in Libya.
In a statement announcing his resignation, Butts categorically denied that he or anyone else in Trudeau’s office pressured Wilson-Raybould. He said he was quitting to avoid distracting from the government’s agenda and suggested he wanted to be free to defend himself.
“My reputation is my responsibility and that is for me to defend,” he said in the statement.
On Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould specifically accused Butts and Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, of pushing for an external legal opinion on the option of negotiating a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin — a kind of plea bargain that would force the company to pay restitution but avoid the potentially crippling impact of a criminal conviction. In a Dec. 18 meeting, Wilson-Raybould said Butts told her chief of staff, Jessica Prince, that there was “no solution here that does not involve some interference.”
“We believe that it is important that Mr. Butts respond to the account of the meeting of (Dec.) 18th provided by Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould, in addition to the other allegations about him and PMO colleagues mentioned in her testimony,” the committee said in a statement Thursday.
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press