Cameron Slater

The beginning of the end for Mike Sabin?

The Sunday Star Times and NZ Herald have been carrying stories about allegations that National MP Mike Sabin is being investigated for assault. At present, the stories carry no detail, making it impossible to tell whether the complaints are historic or whether it’s a family violence complaint.

Nonetheless, in politics, nothing is secret. According to Cameron Slater, the allegations have been doing the rounds for about a month. He describes the allegations as “almost too horrible for words” and predicts a by-election in Sabin’s Northland electorate. (Of course, any allegation made by Slater should perhaps come with questions regarding veracity and whether he’s being paid to assassinate Sabin’s character. If Sabin does end up resigning, it might pay to look closely at whichever candidate Slater lends his support to…)

In the SST and over at The Standard, questions are being asked about when John Key knew about the allegations. The insinuation appears to be that if the allegations where known to Key prior to the election, he should have told the electorate. I’m in two minds about that, largely because we still have no detail about the allegations.

On the one hand, an allegation is just that, and we’re all entitled to the presumption of innocence. The matter is in the hands of Police, who will make a call as to whether there is sufficient evidence to mount a prosecution. If Sabin is charged, there’ll then be enormous pressure for him to resign, which is only to be expected. If he’s convicted, he’ll definitely be toast.

On the other hand, if the allegations end up being especially serious, well… It can certainly be argued that the public have a right to know about certain allegations when they’re choosing their elected representative for the next three years.

The big issue for me at this stage is not whether Key knew about the allegations before the election. Instead, it’s whether he knew about the allegations before Sabin was appointed chair of the Law and Order select committee. It would seem wholly inappropriate for someone under criminal investigation to be made chair. He should step down from the role, and he should step down now.

Collins cleared; Slater lied

On the same day as the Cheryl Gwynn report was released, we also got the release Justice Chisholm’s report into Judith Collins and the allegations that she undermined former-SFO head Adam Feeley.

The report was ordered after the release of an email from Cameron Slater, detailing Judith Collins’ apparent involvement in a plot to undermine Mr Feeley. The email stated:

“I also spoke at length with the Minister responsible today (Judith Collins). She is gunning for Feeley. Any information that we can provide her on his background is appreciated. I have outlined for her a coming blog post about the massive staff turnover and she has added that to the review of the State Services Commissioner. She is using his review of these events to go on a trawl looking for anything else. It is my opinion that Feeley’s position is untenable.”

Cameron Slater’s explanation was that he had “embellished” his email:

“Embellished is a good word. It’s better than a lie, isn’t it?”

At the time, I wrote that if Slater had merely embellished, rather than lied, there were still grounds for Collins’ resignation, given the following statements of fact contained in Slater’s email:

  • Slater spoke to Collins, and the conversation was at least partly about Feeley.
  • Slater discussed with Collins his Whaleoil campaign against Feeley.
  • Collins stated that she intended to pass on Slater’s blog material to the State Services Commissioner.

Essentially, for the Chisholm report to clear Collins’ name, Justice Chisholm had to find that Slater was a liar. Well, that’s pretty much what happened. Here’s the report at para 272:

“The final point concerns Mr Slater’s evidence. When he was interviewed by the inquiry he was in the unenviable position of trying to justify the contents of some of the emails while at the same time doing what he could to protect Ms Collins. On top of that he was trying to remember conversations that took place about three years ago. While I believe that Mr Slater was genuinely trying to assist the inquiry, I decided that his evidence should be approached with great caution, especially where it conflicted with other evidence or the documentary record. However, having said that, there was little in Mr Slater’s evidence that directly supported the proposition that Ms Collins had undermined or attempted to undermine Mr Feeley.”

The report sets out pieces of the transcript of Slater’s evidence to Justice Chisholm, and on several occasions Slater openly admits that he lied in his email correspondence to make himself look big.

I had assumed that it would be almost impossible for Collins to be cleared, as finding definitively that she had had no involvement in the anti-Feeley conspiracy would undoubtedly be difficult. Nonetheless, the report finds no evidence whatsoever to implicate her. The documentary record supports her evidence, and indeed supports the evidence of all those spoken to as part of the inquiry (Cameron Slater’s evidence aside).

The report has certainly received its share of criticism. Several people weren’t interviewed, who perhaps should have been, including Cathy Odgers. Nonetheless, in Ms Odgers’ case, she had provided a lengthy affidavit, which was accepted by Justice Chisholm. Frankly, I find it hard to see how additional interviews with Odgers or Mark Hotchin could have helped implicate Collins. Cameron Slater was the alleged conduit of information to and from her, and Collins essentially lived or died by his evidence.

And so, Collins has been cleared. Can she make it back as a Minister? You’d have to assume not. The multitude of negative headlines she’s generated since the Oravida scandal must surely have resulted in severe concerns from her colleagues as to her professional judgment and personal character. Stranger things have happened though. If a few currently-serving Ministers suffer meltdowns in their portfolios (a la Corrections), she might just find a pathway back to redemption. In politics, nothing’s impossible…

John Key implodes over the Gwyn report

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.

The 500 hats of Bartholomew Cubbins – the John Key edition

It’s standard practice for Ministers and Prime Ministers to wear different “hats” in the course of their work. Work done as a Minister can obviously be separate and distinct from an MP’s ordinary functions on behalf of the constituents in their electorates. If a person calls their local MP to discuss a local problem, that person is hardly likely to want that discussion to be released to all and sundry under the Official Information Act.

Likewise, John Key is Prime Minister, a Minister, leader of the National Party and electorate MP for Helensville. The internal running of the National Party is separate and distinct from the running of the country, just as his role of dealing with constituency matters is distinct from his role of Prime Minister.

Unfortunately, sometimes the dividing lines can get a little fuzzy. John Key yesterday refused to answer the following Parliamentary question from Russel Norman:

“How many times since November 2008 has he spoken with blogger Cameron Slater on the phone and how many times, if any, has he texted him?”

John Key’s response?

“None in my capacity as Prime Minister.”

Apparently, any phone calls made by Key to Slater were in Key’s capacity as leader of the National Party, rather than Prime Minister. It all seems very ‘angels dancing on the head of a pin’. After all, if Key calls Slater to discuss information that Key would like circulated via Slater’s blog, and that information has come Key’s way because he’s Prime Minister or Minister of a certain portfolio, surely the call cannot simply be classified as National Party business and therefore exempt from Parliamentary questioning or the OIA?

Just because something is in the interests of the National Party, it doesn’t mean that the OIA does not apply. After all, the alleged leaking of information by Judith Collins to Cameron Slater was in her role as Minister of Justice, and any documentation relating to the leaks must surely be subject to the OIA (although see this post at No Right Turn regarding the failure by Collins’ office to log Slater’s OIA requests).

Dishing dirt to bloggers hardly seems an activity that occurs completely outside of a Ministerial or Prime Ministerial ambit. John Key needs to get his hats in order.

UPDATE:

The NZ Herald reports that Parliament’s Speaker, David Carter, has ruled that John Key should have answered at least one of Russel Norman’s questions:

However, one

where Dr Norman asked if Slater was correct when he said Mr Key had told him the mother of a car crash victim was “the same woman f-ing feral bitch that screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings” should have been answered.
The question “made a connection to the actions of the Prime Minister in response to Pike River Mine Tragedy,” Mr Carter said. “A connection having been made to a matter of ministerial responsibility an informative answer should be given.”

Where to from here for National?

If John Key wants to have a stab at a fourth term as Prime Minister, there’ll be no one in the party to stop him. He’s weathered the Dirty Politics and Moment of Truth storms, and come out the other side with an increased majority.

Now it’s time for a clean up. Jason Ede has already resigned, which is perfect timing for National. An announcement prior to the election would have looked like an admission of guilt, just prior to people walking into the polling booth. This way, it’s lost in the honeymoon maze, and when the House returns to sit, the opposition will have lost another line of attack.

You’d hope that National’s leadership has learned its lesson from the Dirty Politics saga, and will keep people like Cameron Slater at bay. National may have romped home, but Brand Key has lost a touch more of its shine in the process. National’s result wasn’t necessarily as much an endorsement of John Key’s charms as a rejection of the state of the Left.

And hopefully, National MPs (and prospective MPs) lower down the food chain learn from the reaction within National to the Dirty Politics claims regarding Slater and Lusk’s involvement in the Rodney electorate selection process. If anyone finds out you’ve contracted Slater or Lusk to run interference for you, you’ll hopefully be toast.

Of course, the big issue for National, as they seek re-election in 2017, is the same one that kept them awake at night over the last three years – coalition partners. The election results for ACT and United Future were risible. National will give them roles in this new Government though, partly as a reward for six years of loyalty, partly in the vain hope that they might against all odds surge again in popularity and offer National more assistance at getting over the line in three years time.

Likewise, the Maori Party will be offered a role again too. Te Ururoa Flavell has been very clear that the Maori Party cold work with both National or Labour. National will be keen to keep Flavell onside.

But what if that’s not enough? What if ACT and United Future remain unappetising minnows, and Team Key needs a few more seats next time? Does National build up the Conservatives in the hope that they’ll supplant NZ First?

Once the honeymoon fades, Steven Joyce and the rest of the strategy team will undoubtedly be pondering what needs to be done to ensure a victory in three years time.

The Blomfield v Slater judgment – what does it mean for your average blogger?

So with the finding of the High Court that Cameron Slater is a journalist (see my previous posts here, here and here), and that his Whaleoil blog is a news medium, there’s been some presumption from some on the internet that political bloggers as a class have now been raised to the level of journalists. Lprent at the Standard, for example, says:

I was rather expecting that Justice Asher would make me and other authors here honorary journalists under section 68 of the Evidence Act 2006, and that is what he did.

I’m not entirely certain that lprent is right. There are a few fishhooks spread throughout Asher J’s judgment that seem to indicate that the Courts would consider Cameron Slater to be a bit of a special case among bloggers.

For a start, there’s the definition of a news medium s 68(5) of the Evidence Act: “a medium for the dissemination to the public or a section of the public of news and observations on news”. The key word there – “and” – means that for a political blog to be considered a news medium, that blog must not only disseminate observations on news (which is the general blogging modus operandi), but to also disseminate news. Justice Asher notes at para 54:

Given that the medium must be “for the dissemination to the public of news …” a blog that publishes a single news item would not qualify. The blog must have a purpose of disseminating news. Some regular commitment to the publishing of news must exist before a blog is a news medium.

So what is news? Well, that’s where things get fuzzy. Following reference to the New Zealand Oxford English Dictionary, Asher J states that “[t]he reporting of news involves this element of providing new information to the public about recent events of interest to the public”.

It’s a definition that doesn’t necessarily advance matters. If a radio news bulletin, for example, simply involves the repetition of news broken by others, is the bulletin in fact disseminating news? You’d assume so. So if a blog essentially does the same thing – repeating news stories broken by mainstream news organisations, but providing coverage through the blogger’s voice – is this really any different to a radio news bulletin? Where does the distinction between disseminating news and disseminating comment on news begin and end?

Justice Asher’s judgment, in finding that Whaleoil was a news medium, dwells on Cameron Slater’s investigations and stories that he broke (see paras 58 to 59, and 63 to 64). There’s an implication that a blog must be breaking stories to the public in order to be considered a news medium. Simply reacting to stories already broken, and repeating those stories (with or without additional editorial comment) doesn’t seem to be enough.

At para 62 of the judgment, Asher J states, “In my assessment, Mr Slater’s reports contain genuine new information of interest over a wide range of topics”, while at para 65 it is stated:

It is this element of regularly providing new or recent information of public interest which is in my view determinative. He was not doing this as often as would occur in a newspaper or a television or radio station, but that could not be expected of a single blogger. Such a person would not have the resources to operate on that scale. I do not see it as a pre-requisite that the quantity of stories must be equivalent to that of a substantial corporate news organisation. His motives for reporting are not crucial either. Because Whale Oil at the relevant time with reasonable frequency provided such information, as well as commentary and the opportunity for debate, it was a news medium.

 So are the authors at the Standard, Pundit, The Daily Blog or Public Address journalists? Is Danyl McLauchlan at the Dim-Post a journalist? Or David Farrar at Kiwiblog? Or Pete George at Your NZ? Or yours truly? From the High Court’s judgment, who knows. Most blogs, such as Occasionally Erudite, simply involve commentary on topical news items – the individual blogger’s view on the story or stories of the day – which seems unlikely to reach the threshold of being a news medium or journalism.

But at the Standard, lprent has reported live from the NZ First conference, or attended the Blomfield v Slater High Court hearing and provided a report on what occurred. At Public Address, Russell Brown provides additional background to stories he covers on his Media Take show or provides details of interviews with Patrick Gower, while Graeme Edgeler has exhaustively researched and posted on issues such as the secrecy of the Coroner’s Court.

Are these examples of journalism? One would assume so. Do they occur regularly enough for those particular blogs to be considered news mediums, according to Asher J? Hard to say. The test seems to be on a case by case basis, with regular provision of new information to the public being relative to the individual blogger.

Nonetheless, it seems that most bloggers wouldn’t be considered to be journalists, following Asher J’s reasoning. Repeating stories on a blog and providing comment won’t get you over the threshold. And even if you break stories, it has to happen on a regular basis (whatever “regular” may mean).

Cameron Slater seems to be a special case.

 

 

Blomfield v Slater : the judgment

So Cameron Slater is now officially a journalist, for the purposes of the Evidence Act 2006. Here’s a copy of the High Court’s judgment, thanks to Peter Aranyi at The Paepae (whose post ‘High Court serves a mixed bag for PR attack blogger Cameron Slater‘ is worth reading).

With the unfolding of the Dirty Politics saga after the High Court appeal hearing had occurred, commentators had wondered whether the Judge would reopen the hearing. Mr Blomfield attempted to produce additional evidence that had flowed from the Dirty Politics book, but was quickly rebuffed. In the judgment, Asher J merely notes that leave was declined to introduce further evidence “on the basis that it is hearsay or privileged”.

This gives rise to elements of (possibly) unintentional humour, such as where the Judge states at para 66, “While he [Slater] will often refer to other materials, there was no evidence presented to suggest that he was only regurgitating the writings of others”. Given the evidence presented in Dirty Politics, that Slater was regularly receiving posts written by Carrick Graham and others, and posting them word for word under his own byline, one wonders whether Asher J winced as he wrote that.

Nonetheless, the Court confirms that Slater is a journalist and that the Whaleoil blog is a news medium, as defined in s 68(5) of the Evidence Act. Essentially, Whaleoil was considered big enough, and Slater considered a regular enough breaker of stories and provider of news content, to meet the requisite definitions.

There are some interesting observations in the judgment about whether bloggers could generally be considered to be journalists, and blogs generally considered to be news mediums. For example:

[54] I have no doubt that many bloggers are not journalists because they are not obtaining and disseminating news to the public or a section of the public on a regular basis. Some may not deal with news in the sense of providing new or recent information, and some may not deal sufficiently with the public or a section of the public. Nevertheless, I conclude that a blogger who regularly disseminates news to a significant body of the public can be a journalist. Given that the medium must be “for the dissemination to the public of news …” a blog that publishes a single news item would not qualify. The blog must have a purpose of disseminating news. Some regular commitment to the publishing of news must exist before a blog is a news medium.

and:

[61] I accept that a news medium that was shown to be using news as a basis for comment only might not be a news medium. I also accept that a news medium that published articles of such a low standard that they could not objectively be regarded as “news” might not qualify. Although the definitions in s 68(1) do not include a quality requirement, quality would be relevant to the extent that a writer who was shown consistently to invent stories or be inaccurate on a regular basis might not qualify. An article that is false is not news. I deal with what is a “journalist’s work” in the next section.

That means that very few blogs might actually be considered to be news mediums, and that very few bloggers might be considered to be journalists, but I’ll examine that issue in a separate post.

Suffice it to say that Cameron Slater achieved a victory in part one of the judgment – as a journalist, he (quoting from para 92) “is in general entitled not to disclose the identity or identities of his informant(s)”.

But that of course was merely the beginning. Justice Asher then had to address the issue of whether, pursuant to s 68(2) of the Evidence Act, the public interest in the disclosure of the source’s identity outweighed firstly, any likely adverse effect of the disclosure on the source or any other person, and secondly, “the public interest in the communication of facts and opinion to the public by the news media and, accordingly also, in the ability of the news media to access sources of facts”.

Section 68(2) poses a tough threshold. The ability to maintain confidentiality of sources can be fundamentally important to the ability of journalists to do their job effectively. Without the ability to promise to a source that their identity will not be revealed, journalists would effectively be neutered in their ability to hold the powerful to account.

Justice Asher adopted the five step process originally set out in Police v Campbell [2010] 1 NZLR 483 by Randerson J:

(a)  The issues to be determined in the proceeding;

(b)  The public interest in the disclosure of the identity of the source in the light of the issues to be determined, if any;

(c)  The likely adverse effects of disclosure on the informant or any other person, if any;

(d)  The public interest in the protection of communication of facts and opinion to the public by the news media and the ability of the news media to assess sources of facts, if any; and

(e)  Whether factor (b), if it exists, outweighs factors (c) and (d).

In the course of working through the five step process, Asher J is often scathing of Slater (as scathing as a Judge can be when they’re only ruling on an interlocutory application, with the substantive application still to be heard). Justice Asher notes at para 114:

As a general proposition, when a journalist such as Mr Slater has presented to the public extreme and vitriolic statements about a person such as Mr Blomfield alleging, as he has, serious crimes by him, there is a public interest in the fair airing of those statements and the circumstances of their making when the issues are traversed in defamation proceedings. The vitriolic remarks indicate that Mr Blomfield is a danger to society. The remarks being deliberately put in the public domain by Mr Slater show there is a public interest in all the circumstances relevant to Mr Blomfield’s challenge.

Likewise, at para 118, Asher J states:

The pleaded expressions of opinion of Mr Slater are extreme. He accuses Mr Blomfield amongst other things of the exploitation of trust involving children, and of being involved in wrongly changing the amounts shown as donations. It is said that he ripped off a charity, that he is a psychopath and that he loves extortion, that he is a pathological liar, that he launders money, and that he is part of a network of crooks. Some of the exchanges between the alleged informants and Mr Slater show a gleeful attitude towards his shaming Mr Blomfield. In one blog post Mr Slater referred to the portable hard-drive as “just over 1 Tb of juicy dirt”. In the context of such extremely perjorative assertions, whether the pleaded honest opinion was genuine is likely to be very much an issue.

Essentially, the Court found that Slater’s Whaleoil campaign against Blomfield was in the nature of a personal vendetta and/or a personal or commercial attack. Or at least, that it’s likely enough that it was, that Blomfield needs disclosure of the source to be able to properly prosecute his case. With the only adverse effects of disclosure to the source being the possible joinder as a party to defamation proceedings, the Court deemed that there was no public interest in Slater’s protection of the source.

In the end, it’s rather a Pyrrhic victory for Slater. Despite being found to have been a journalist, he still has to disclose his source, and the Court’s unflattering description of his and his source’s prima facie motives would suggest that a rather large rabbit will need to pulled from a hat for Slater to avoid a significant loss in the substantive defamation proceedings. Certainly, the revelations (or, for some, confirmations) in Dirty Politics that Slater performs corporate and personal character assassinations for money will hardly have helped his case.

Cameron Slater – journalist? Yes.

Back in May, I wrote a post entitled ‘Cameron Slater – journalist?‘. Well, now, apparently, the question mark is no longer required. Justice Asher, in the High Court, has over-turned the District Court’s decision that Slater was not a journalist.

The decision doesn’t surprise me. In my original post I argued that for all the Whaleoil blog’s faults (and there are many, publicised at length in and since the release of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics), Whaleoil was a news medium and Slater was a journalist under the very broad definition provided in s 68(5) of the Evidence Act.

The full decision has yet to be made publicly available. At the time of posting, Cameron Slater has merely released a picture of the first sentence of para 145 of the judgment, which states:

“Therefore, Mr Slater was a journalist and Whale Oil a news medium, and he could invoke the protection in s 68(1).”

What Cameron Slater doesn’t say is that he is still required by the Court to disclose his source, as there is no public interest in the source’s identity being protected. As AAP reports:

Although Whale Oil was considered journalism Slater still has to disclose his sources because the case wasn’t in the public interest, the sources weren’t whistleblowers, and the case had the mark of a “private feud”, Justice Asher said.

“Any public interest in protecting sources must be further diminished when there is evidence that a personal vendetta appears to be driving the disclosures,” he said.

I’ll post more fully once the judgment is made public.

Enemies without and enemies within

Yesterday, when the news of Judith Collins’ resignation broke, I asked where the Cameron Slater email had come from. It hadn’t been released by Whaledump, and it hadn’t featured in Dirty Politics. Instead, it had been sent to the Prime Minister’s office.

John Key clarified yesterday that the email was not sent anonymously. Instead, the email came from a person who was known to the PM’s office, but the identity of that person was not going to be released.

Well, we don’t know just whose hands the incriminating email passed through on its way through the Beehive to John Key and his staff, but according to the Sunday Star-Times this morning, the source of the email was Cathy Odgers aka Cactus Kate, Cameron Slater’s partner in crime:

Knowing Fairfax was investigating the hacked emails, it is believed Odgers (known by the blog name Cactus Kate) went through her own emails and found some that could be seen as implicating Collins. This correspondence then found its way to a Beehive staffer on Friday.

“I take it you found the smoking gun,” Odgers said in an email to Fairfax shortly before Collins resigned. She declined to comment further yesterday.

In fact, Fairfax did not have that particular incriminating email, and the hacker known as Rawshark said yesterday he did not have it either. “That email wasn’t leaked by me, I had nothing to do with it,” said Rawshark, who was also the source for Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics.

Exactly who Odgers provided the email to, and why, isn’t clear. If she had assumed that the SST already had the email, it was presumably an attempt to tip the Government off regarding the coming storm. Slater must now be wondering whether his friend Odgers had anticipated that Collins’ scalp was an inevitability the moment the email was provided by her to the National Party.

And the timing isn’t clear either. There seem to be conflicting accounts of what date it was received by National Party staffers, and what the chain of custody was before it arrived at the Ninth Floor.

Regardless of the exact dates, times and chains of custody, Slater and Collins must be spitting tacks. All that talk of “giving back double”, and then to discover that the person they need to give back double to is Cathy Odgers…

Cameron Slater – lies, or the art of puffery?

Cameron Slater’s email to Carrick Graham, Mark possibly-Hochin and one mystery identity may have sunk Judith Collins’ political career, but Slater is standing steadfastly by her. Reading a pre-prepared statement yesterday, and taking a few media questions, he denied that Collins had done what the email said she’d done.

So was he lying in the email? Apparently not. According to Slater, he was exaggerating the truth:

“Embellished is a good word. It’s better than a lie, isn’t it?”

It’s worth looking at precisely what Slater wrote about Judith Collins’ involvement in the conspiracy to undermine then-SFO director Adam Feeley:

“I also spoke at length with the Minister responsible today (Judith Collins). She is gunning for Feeley. Any information that we can provide her on his background is appreciated. I have outlined for her a coming blog post about the massive staff turnover and she has added that to the review of the State Services Commissioner. She is using his review of these events to go on a trawl looking for anything else. It is my opinion that Feeley’s position is untenable.”

There are a few definite statements of fact there:

  • Slater spoke to Collins, and the conversation was at least partly about Feeley.
  • Slater discussed with Collins his Whaleoil campaign against Feeley.
  • Collins stated that she intended to pass on Slater’s blog material to the State Services Commissioner.

Now the rest of the paragraph could be explained away by simple puffery. For example, Collins says a few intemperate things about Feeley in a topic of conversation initiated by Slater, which Slater describes as Collins “gunning for Feeley”. He assumes she’d be interested in more material on Feeley being passed to her. She pats him on the head and tells him he’s doing good work with his blog.

Nonetheless, even if everything that isn’t a statement of fact is merely Slater demonstrating his elevated sense of self-importance to his business partners, Carrick Graham et al, the statements of fact in themselves raise serious issues with Collins’ conduct.

Collins was Minister of Justice. As part of her role, she was the Minister in charge of the SFO. And in that role, she had a conversation with a blogger who informed her that he was about to undertake a campaign to torpedo the head of the SFO. Rather than telling the blogger that such a course of action is entirely inappropriate, she instead gives him a green light to go for it. After all, when you tell someone that you’ll pass their material on to the State Services Commissioner, and you don’t tell them to then pull their head in, that’s a green light.

So if Slater wasn’t lying in his email, that’s the best case for Collins, and that, to my mind, is resignation material on its own. And if the true situation is less than best case? Well, Collins won’t ever be returning as a Minister.