The Cheryl Gwyn report into the release of SIS information relating to whether Phil Goff was or wasn’t briefed about the Israeli spy saga was released on Tuesday. It makes for compelling reading as it investigates whether Goff lied, whether then-head of the SIS Warren Tucker behaved inappropriately, and what role the Prime Minister’s Office had in releasing the information to Cameron Slater.
The conclusions were, on occasion, somewhat unexpected. Had Phil Goff lied? Apparently not. It seems that although Mr Tucker briefly provided Mr Goff with a “preliminary document” relating to the Israeli spies, Goff did not read the document, and the matter was brushed over by Tucker. Essentially, both men were right: in Tucker’s mind, he’d briefed Goff on the issue, while in Goff’s mind, he hadn’t received a briefing at all.
The problem that then arose was that Mr Tucker seems to have taken personal affront at having his honesty and professionalism called into question by Mr Goff. To put Goff in his place, Tucker therefore released only selective documentation, which (when read in isolation) appeared to prove Goff a liar. The report drags Tucker over the coals for this, and the SIS has apologised to Goff.
So what then of Mr Slater and his OIA request? Slater’s explanation was that he received a tip-off from someone purporting to be from the SIS. He denied being tipped off by Jason Ede.
There are a few problems with that explanation though. For instance, the report finds that Slater was on the phone to Ede at the same time as his OIA request was made. Slater’s explanation to the media? Ede was in fact trying to persuade Slater not to make the OIA request. Yet, the report states at para 214:
Mr Slater also later provided a series of emails to and from Mr Ede, in which Mr Ede expressed his concern that he “might be in the shit” over his use of the NZSIS information. Mr de Joux explained to the inquiry he was not happy Mr Ede had chosen to work through Mr Slater rather than mainstream media because it would create an unhelpful perception. Mr Slater’s email reply to Mr Ede was that he would simply state that he had an NZSIS source. In the context of Mr Ede’s evidence, I interpreted that email to mean that Mr Slater would claim to have an NZSIS source in order to protect Mr Ede.
Why would Ede be “in the shit” over using SIS information if the tip-off to Slater came from the SIS? And why would Slater assure Ede that he would state he had an SIS source, if Ede actually had nothing to do with tipping of Slater?
So could Jason Ede’s phone and email records provide salvation for him? Well, as it turns out, Ms Gwyn suspects that Ede was using personal phones and email to conduct Prime Minster’s Office work. It’s a pretty blatant ploy by Ede to avoid OIA requirements.
But it gets worse. When asked by Ms Gwyn to disclose his personal emails and phone records, it turned out that he’d already deleted them prior to the commencement of the inquiry. It’s the high-tech version of spending the night in the archives room with the paper shredder…
There’s no provable connection between John Key and any of this, but it’s almost impossible to deny that his office didn’t play a role. Nonetheless, Key has gone on the offensive, attempting to argue that the report shows that his staff did absolutely nothing wrong. Of course, the report says nothing of the sort. In fact, it concludes that Jason Ede tipped off Cameron Slater, and it rejects Slater’s explanation that someone in the SIS tipped him off.
The email trail makes a mockery of Slater’s attempt to get Ede off the hook, and John Key’s attempt to argue otherwise has made him a laughing stock. Just check out his disastrous interview with Mary Wilson on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint programme on Tuesday evening. Likewise, his performance yesterday afternoon in the House was farcical, with Andrew Little memorably skewering him with the line:
“Why doesn’t he just cut the crap and apologise to New Zealand for running a smear campaign out of his office?”
“Cut the crap” now seems to have taken on a life of its own, propelling Little to cult hero status amongst the Left, not quite what Key would have intended.
Then it got worse for Key, having to return to Parliament to correct one of his question time answers, to admit that the day before the report was released, he’d had text message communication with Cameron Slater. He’d “misinterpreted” the initial question, and apparently hadn’t understood that communication with Slater in the past week would include text messages…
Key is evidently hoping that, just like the initial pre-election Dirty Politics furore, this second round will simply pass the public by. To a certain extent, he’s probably right. Almost no one will read the Gwyn report, and the non-partisan centre-ground of voters will continue to assume that what happens in John Key’s office probably also happens in the Labour leader’s office.
Nonetheless, Key’s facade of being an honest, everyman, non-politician takes another big hit. With every Mary Wilson interview and every attack by Patrick Gower at 6pm, Key becomes Just Another Politician.
The odds on National winning a fourth term in Government just lengthened.