Former Trudeau Adviser Butts Testifies Before Commons Justice Committee

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancels visit to Regina

Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, prepares to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding the SNC Lavalin Affair, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

She alleged she was subjected to relentless, inappropriate pressure _ and veiled threats about being removed as justice minister and attorney general _ to intervene to halt the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on bribery and fraud charges related to contracts in Libya.

Butts presented an alternative narrative, that what had happened was basically an internal Liberal party feud, where Wilson-Raybould and the people she was talking to in the PMO interpreted the same events differently. Gerald Butts, one of Trudeau's closest friends, was Trudeau's chief aide until last month, when he resigned over the SNC-Lavalin allegations.

He sounded a somewhat more conciliatory note at a partisan rally Monday night, a few hours after Treasury Board president Jane Philpott handed in her resignation, citing her loss of confidence in the government's handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

She was later stripped of her post as attorney general and eventually resigned from Trudeau's Cabinet.

"I did not and I do not see how our brief discussion on that file constituted pressure of any kind", Butts told the justice committee.

A scheduled visit by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Regina has been cancelled.

The concern officials had, he said, was for the 9,000 jobs that could have been lost at SNC-Lavalin if it faced a criminal conviction - something Butts called a public-policy issue. Critics say that would be improper political meddling in a case.

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Despite all of his huggy-bear, kissy-face posturing in front of the committee, including the claim that he didn't want to "cast aspersions" on his former colleague, Butts tossed former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould into the wood chipper.

He planned to back up his version of events with emails, text messages and other documentation, much as Wilson-Raybould did in her testimony. She said Wernick indicated the primary need was to cover the roles and responsibilities of the minister of justice and attorney general. It was clear that he arrived in that committee room, which feels oddly subterranean despite being a huge space located on the fourth floor of a slickly refurbished government building, acutely aware that it would be politically disastrous for him to look like he was impugning Wilson-Raybould in any way.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will issue a public statement on the SNC-Lavalin scandal in a Thursday morning press conference in Ottawa.

Butts testified he only found out the Attorney General had reached a decision to not proceed with a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the Quebec engineering giant last week when she spoke before the committee.

Trudeau has said that he and his staff always acted appropriately and the decision on whether to forgo prosecution and enter a plea agreement with the company was Wilson-Raybould's and hers alone.

Before beginning to speak, the Liberal majority on the committee voted down a Conservative motion for Butts to be sworn in to testify under oath.

What's not in dispute - and hasn't been for the past month - is that the SNC-Lavalin affair is taking a heavy toll on the government.

"Can you imagine, if when we were kids, and the coal mines closed ... the best explanation someone could give us is that they thought about it for 12 days?" said Butts, whose father is a retired coal-miner. "That is not a fair commentary because it has nothing to do with friendship and everything to do with her (Philpott's) set of values and how she felt about standing there and toeing the cabinet line when she didn't believe a word that the prime minister was saying".

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