OTTAWA - The Prime Minister's Office was scorched Monday by allegations Mike Duffy was going to be heaved from the Senate unless he accepted $90,000 to repay expense claims and follow a script written by Stephen Harper's advisers.
Noted criminal lawyer Donald Bayne told a news conference his client is the victim of a witch hunt orchestrated by the PMO and key Conservatives in the Senate because they failed to defuse a story that was alienating party supporters.
"The payment of $90,000 was not the doing of Sen. Duffy," he said. "It was a political tactic forced on him by the PMO."
Bayne said Duffy opposed the scheme, but caved after Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen, Harper's former press secretary, and Sen. David Tkachuk indicated they were going "to have him tossed" without the benefit of a hearing.
Bayne cited e-mail exchanges and memos - the "tip of the big evidentiary iceberg," he said - supporting Duffy's claims he broke no rules when he claimed property in P.E.I. as his primary residence since his appointment in 2009.
And while an outside audit also suggested the rules were unclear, a Senate subcommittee rewrote them and applied them retroactively - a move that was called grossly unfair in some circles and unconstitutional in others.
Bayne's comments come on the eve of an attempt by the Senate to suspend without pay Duffy and two others embroiled in the spending scandal being investigated by the RCMP.
He says his client has become a "political embarrassment" for the PMO because the story was mishandled from the start and continues to fester.
"It's the old story. The coverup is always more damaging than the original issue."
In one e-mail dated Feb. 20 between Duffy and another lawyer that was forwarded to Chris Woodcock, Harper's political troubleshooter, Nigel Wright, Harper's former chief of staff who gave Duffy the $90,000, explained the arrangement.
"He was expansive, saying we the PMO have been working on lines and a scenario for you that would cover all of your concerns, including cash for repayment," Bayne quoted Duffy as saying about a previous telephone conversation with Wright.
Harper brushed aside the allegations in the Commons and spoke mostly about a trade deal with Europe.
But he said "there will be consequences and there will be accountability" for those who break spending rules.
Bayne also accused the Senate of acting like a "mob" by rushing to oust Duffy before police finish their investigation.