Trudeau denies 'partisan' meddling in prosecution

Trudeau denies 'partisan' meddling in prosecution

"Absolutely", he said emphatically about giving the former attorney general the opportunity to testify about the SNC-Lavalin scandal a second time at the justice committee.

The crisis has prompted the resignations of former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Treasury Board president, Jane Philpott, and Trudeau's closest political aide, Gerald Butts. And when there an erosion of trust within the people involved, it further complicates what is already a hard decision for the Attorney General. "As prime minister, I should have been", he said, vowing to "do better next time".

She accused top Trudeau government officials of aggressively hounding her to override the decision of the Public Prosecution Service to proceed with a trial against SNC-Lavalin, even after she ruled out intervening.

The incident came to light after the Globe & Mail published a report alleging that Trudeau's office had pressed the attorney general in the hopes of getting the criminal charges against the engineering firm dropped.

"If (Trudeau) doesn't do the right thing and step aside, Canadians will determine his fate this fall", Scheer said, referring to the October 21 election.

Such situations, he said, "make governing a challenge".

While all three people at the meeting agreed that Trudeau did not direct Wilson-Raybould to reverse the director of public prosecution's decision to take SNC-Lavalin to trial, he did ask her to rethink it.

Butts would only say he received internal government briefings on the matter.

"I am obviously reflecting on lessons learned", he said.

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Trudeau tried to shore up the biggest crisis of to face his government which has already seen the resignation of two high profile Cabinet members and a close aide.

At Thursday's news conference, Trudeau picked up this theme, saying Wilson-Raybould should have come to him if she felt pressured.

After all that, Trudeau said the testimony has revealed a "difference in perspective" on conversations that took place "among colleagues about how to tackle a hard issue". "I care about the families, workers and students who live in my is our job as Parliamentarians to defend the interests of the communities we were elected to represent, to be the voice of those communities in Ottawa". If Trudeau can't offer up specific details to address it, perhaps the justice committee can at least invite Wilson-Raybould back.

Going forward, Trudeau said, the government will seek expert opinions on a number of issues related to the SNC-Lavalin controversy, including whether the dual role of justice minister and attorney general should be divided, in order to reinforce the independence of the attorney general from political considerations.

Wilson-Raybould testified last she believes she lost the justice job because she didn't give in to "sustained" and "inappropriate pressure" to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin. It was for that reason, he said, that he believed Wilson-Raybould "was still open to hearing different arguments and different approaches on what her decision could be". And she said that she would. "I do question whether or not it would have been wise for her to occupy that space and maybe come up with some solutions, but it is a hard situation". In Butts' view a prime minister and his personal entourage should be almost all-powerful. "But I can tell you without a doubt that I have taken and will continue to take many lessons from these recent days and weeks".

But the way Wilson-Raybould described it during her testimony, she had made it clear at the time that she would not be changing her mind.

Whether Justin Trudeau's government will be strengthened - or whether it can recover - from the scandal is very much an open question. He maintained all involved recognized that the final decision was the attorney general's alone and no one crossed the line into applying inappropriate pressure. He stopped short of apologizing to Wilson-Raybould.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:03 a.m.

The SNC-Lavalin affair started as a legal matter but has grown, week by week, into a political crisis that touches on a range of issues carrying special resonance for Trudeau, including indigenous affairs, gender, corporate influence and Quebec.

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