Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s former top aide, Gerald Butts, told the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday that he remembers a “very different” version of a dinner he had with Jody Wilson-Raybould last December, during which she alleges she was pressured to intervene in the case against SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould, the former attorney general, has said that dinner was one of several occasions during which members of the prime minister’s staff inappropriately pressured her to help SNC-Lavalin avoid heavy punishment for bribery and fraud charges.
She testified last week that Butts pressured her on the issue during a dinner at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in Ottawa on Dec. 5. Butts says it was their only face-to-face discussion of the issue.
Butts and Wilson-Raybould both said they covered several topics at the dinner, but they differ on who asked for the meeting and how much Butts might have pushed the issue of SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould said they “both sought out this meeting,” and that her intent was to speak about “a number of things,” including the way she and her staff were being “hounded” about SNC-Lavalin.
“Towards the end of our meeting… I raised how I needed everybody to stop talking to me about SNC, as I had made up my mind and the engagements were inappropriate,” Wilson-Raybould said.
“Gerry then took over the conversation and said how we need a solution on the SNC stuff. He said I needed to find a solution,” she told the committee last week. “I said ‘no’ and I referenced the primary inquiry and the judicial review.”
Butts disputed Wilson-Raybould’s version of events on Wednesday, saying he was surprised that she “experienced the dinner as pressure.” He said Wilson-Raybould asked him for the meeting in late November and broached the subject of SNC-Lavalin during their dinner.
Butts testified on Wednesday that they only had a “brief conversation” about SNC-Lavalin during a wide-ranging dinner discussion that lasted over two hours, and he did not see how the conversation constituted pressure of any kind.
“I have no memory of her asking me to do anything, or to speak with staff about any aspect of this file,” he said. According to Butts, Wilson-Raybould never suggested that his staffers had done anything wrong.
Butts said they discussed asking a retired Supreme Court justice for advice, but he told her it was “her call, and I knew it was her call.”
“I am fully aware that two people can experience the same event differently,” Butts told the committee.
Butts said it was the first time Wilson-Raybould brought up the issue of SNC-Lavalin with him. He added that she later followed up with him via text message on several of their conversation topics, but SNC-Lavalin was not one of them.
“We parted that meeting as friends and colleagues,” he said.
Wilson-Raybould told the committee last week that she faced relentless, inappropriate pressure, including veiled threats about her being removed from her post, to stop the trial against SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould was moved out of her roles as attorney general and justice minister on Jan. 14, as part of a larger cabinet shuffle. She resigned from cabinet on Feb. 12, following reports that she had been pressured to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case.
Butts resigned as Trudeau’s principal secretary on Feb. 18. He denied any impropriety but said his presence in the PMO had become a distraction.
The prime minister is expected to issue a statement on the SNC-Lavalin affair in the coming days.
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