Mar 6, 2019

Canada's political drama deepens as Trudeau confidante testifies

Butts (L) and Trudeau in 2015. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Justin Trudeau’s former top aide, Gerald Butts, denied in testimony before a parliamentary committee today that the prime minister made “inappropriate” interventions in a sensitive legal case, as Canada’s former attorney general has alleged.

Why it matters: Trudeau is facing the deepest scandal of his political career ahead of what is likely to be a tight re-election bid in October.

  • Butts testified that he is "firmly convinced that nothing happened here beyond the normal operations of government.” Butts, sometimes described as Trudeau's "right-hand man," resigned 2 weeks ago as his principal secretary in an effort to slow the fast-moving scandal. That hasn't worked.

Catch up quick: Global engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin is at the heart of the controversy. The firm faces fraud and corruption charges over its dealings with the Moammar Gadhafi regime in Libya from 2001 to 2011.

  • SNC would be banned from bidding for government contracts for 10 years if convicted. Butts testified that such a ban would put at least 9,000 jobs in jeopardy, most of them in Trudeau’s home province of Quebec.
  • Jody Wilson-Raybould testified last week that from September to December of last year, when she was serving as attorney general, she was the subject of a “consistent and sustained effort” from Butts and other top officials to settle the matter out of court through a “deferred prosecution agreement.”
  • She claims that Trudeau personally “asked her to ‘find a solution’ that would avoid SNC-Lavalin having to cut jobs or move from Montreal,” an intervention she considered “inappropriate” but not illegal, per the FT.
  • The Globe and Mail newspaper first reported last month that Trudeau’s office had pressed Wilson-Raybould over the case. Wilson-Raybould, who was shifted to the veteran affairs ministry in January, resigned from the Cabinet.

What they’re saying: Butts claimed Wilson-Raybould’s demotion had “absolutely nothing to do with SNC-Lavalin” and that she hadn’t raised any concerns about inappropriate pressure prior to the Cabinet reshuffle.

  • “All we ever asked the attorney-general to do was to consider a second opinion,” he said, arguing that was prudent when “so many people's livelihoods are [at] stake.”
  • Trudeau last week denied any wrongdoing and said he “completely disagreed” with Wilson-Raybould’s characterization of events.

The latest: Jane Philpott, president of the Treasury Board, resigned from the Cabinet yesterday over her “serious concerns” about the allegations.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 859,556 — Total deaths: 42,332 — Total recoveries: 178,300.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in confirmed cases. Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 189,510 — Total deaths: 4,076 — Total recoveries: 7,109.
  3. Business updates: Should you pay your rent or mortgage during the coronavirus pandemic? Find out if you are protected under the CARES Act.
  4. Public health updates: More than 400 long-term care facilities across the U.S. report patients with coronavirus — Older adults and people with underlying health conditions are more at risk, new data shows.
  5. Federal government latest: President Trump said the next two weeks would be "very painful," with projections indicating the virus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans.
  6. Coronavirus in custody: Inmates in all U.S. federal prisons are set to enter a 14-day quarantine on April 1. A federal judge on Tuesday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release 10 detained immigrants who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 while in confinement.
  7. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Captain of nuclear aircraft carrier docked in Guam pleaded with the U.S. Navy for more resources after more than 100 members of his crew tested positive.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll tops 4,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 4,000 people in the U.S. — with over 1,000 deaths reported in New York City alone, per Johns Hopkins data. The number of deaths are still much lower than those reported in Italy, Spain and China.

Of note: Hours earlier, President Trump noted it's "going to be a very painful two weeks," with projections indicating the novel coronavirus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans — even with strict social distancing guidelines in place. "They are going to be facing a war zone," he said of medical workers.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 7 mins ago - Health

World coronavirus updates: UN warns of recession with "no parallel" to recent past

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus pandemic is the "greatest test" the world has faced together since the formation of the United Nations just after the Second World War ended in 1945, UN chief António Guterres said Tuesday.

The big picture: COVID-19 cases surged past 858,000 and the death toll exceeded 42,000 Tuesday night, per Johns Hopkins data. Italy reported more than 12,000 deaths.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health