Last Wednesday, February 27, was an extraordinary day in two North American capitals, Ottawa and Washington, where nationally televised sessions of the Liberal government Justice Committee in Ottawa and the American Congress in Washington, coincidentally heard powerful testimony from two prominent individuals – both capable of having the power to begin the process of bringing down the leadership and government of each country.
In Ottawa, the former Attorney General of Canada and Justice Minister, Judy Wilson-Raybould, who resigned from her shuffled role of Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Liberal cabinet last month, presented stunning testimony to an augmented session of the government Justice Committee.
She detailed “inappropriate political interference with the justice system” by up to a dozen named Liberals, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister’s Office, in the person of the now-also-resigned Chief of Staff Gerald Butts.
Raybould said the interference was all in connection with a before-the-courts prosecution of Montreal engineering giant, SNC-Lavelin. The compelling Raybould testimony was accompanied by “copious notes of conversations and discussions” and an offer to provide details of all e-mails and texts.
Nearing deadline for a weekly newspaper column, you’ll know a whole lot more about this than I do, when it appears March 7.
In the U.S., beleaguered President Donald Trump was in Vietnam at the time participating with Kim Jong Un in a failed ‘summit-type’ negotiation over ‘de-nuclearization’ by North Korea, when his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen was testifying under oath on Capitol Hill before Congress on a wide range of serious issues threatening the chaotic Trump presidency.
Cohen, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to Congress and who will shortly report to prison for a three-year sentence, presented some extremely harsh testimony about Trump’s activities before and after the election.
He claimed Trump knew in advance that damaging emails about Democrat Hillary Clinton would be released, something the president has denied, and accused Trump of frequent lying during the 2016 campaign about a Moscow real estate project.
He also said Trump directed him to arrange hush money payment to a porn actress who said she had sex with the President a decade earlier. He said the president arranged to reimburse Cohen, and Cohen brought to the hearing a check that he said was proof of the transaction.
As I write, Cohen is back before members of Congress, this time behind closed doors, for another day of testimony about the president. Cohen countered repeated arguments about his credibility from Republican members, stating he literally had nothing to lose and little to gain from his testimony.
“My (past) loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything: my family’s happiness, friendships, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honour, my reputation and soon my freedom,” Cohen said. “I will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.”
In Ottawa on Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau countered Opposition Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s demand that he resign with a somewhat bland declaration that the Liberals did nothing more than normal in-cabinet discussions of job protection matters challenging his government. But the Speaker agreed to an emergency parliamentary debate on the big blow-up, Friday night. (On Monday, March 4, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott resigned from the federal cabinet, saying she’d lost confidence in the way the Trudeau government had dealt with the SNC-Lavalin affair – Ed)
Both countries are facing imminent elections – a Canadian election is set for October 20 this year, and the Liberals are plunging in the polls – and the next presidential election in the States is in 2020.
None of this is going to go away in either country in the near future and points to difficult election decisions in Ottawa and Washington.
But, as headline generators in Canada and the U.S., the two sets of testimony were paramount.
They also brought into direct focus the seriousness of the multiple problems and issues faced by the two governments – and the personal issues facing both the Canadian Prime Minister and the President.
(The justice committee is a committee of Parliament, made up of MPs – because the Liberals have the majority in Parliament, they have the majority on the committee. – Ed)