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Gerald Butts, Trudeau's Ex-Principal Adviser, Wants To Testify At Justice Committee On SNC-Lavalin Affair

This story isn't slowing down anytime soon.
Gerald Butts speaks on his phone as Trudeau holds a news conference in North Vancouver, B.C., on May 29, 2015.
The Canadian Press
Gerald Butts speaks on his phone as Trudeau holds a news conference in North Vancouver, B.C., on May 29, 2015.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's former right-hand man has requested to testify at the House of Commons justice committee on the rapidly unfolding SNC-Lavalin affair.

Gerald Butts sent a letter to the committee's chair, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, saying he believes his "evidence" will help the committee as it evaluates the explosive testimony it received Wednesday from former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.

He closed the message by saying he needs a "short period of time" to receive legal advice on that evidence.

Housefather released a statement Thursday evening to say that Butts will get his time in the committee, along with Michael Wernick, the top civil servant, and Nathalie Drouin, the deputy attorney general.

Wilson-Raybould told the committee Wednesday that Trudeau and several senior members of his office, including Butts, waged a campaign of "inappropriate" and sustained pressure on her over four months to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial. Wilson-Raybould says she even faced "veiled threats" after she made it clear she would not budge on the matter.

Wilson-Raybould said in December her chief of staff Jessica Prince was called to an urgent meeting with Butts and Katie Telford, the PM's chief of staff.

The two wanted Prince to hire an external legal expert to provide an opinion on whether SNC-Lavalin should be given a remediation agreement, which would have helped it avoid a criminal trial that could spark job losses.

'Important' for Butts to speak at committee: chair

After Prince said that would amount to interference in the case, Butts allegedly told her "there is no solution that does not involve some interference.''

"After reviewing Ms. Wilson-Raybould's testimony, we feel we need more clarification on the meeting of December 18 and the phone conversation of December 19," Housefather said in his statement explaining why Butts was invited to speak to the committee.

"We believe that it is important that Mr. Butts respond to the account of the meeting of the 18th provided by Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould, in addition to the other allegations about him and PMO colleagues mentioned in her testimony."

The testimony has sparked outrage among the opposition. The Conservatives have called on Trudeau to resign and have asked the RCMP to open a probe into the allegations of political interference. The NDP are repeating original calls for a formal public inquiry into the matter.

Butts resigned almost 10 days after The Globe and Mail published a report citing unnamed sources that spoke of this alleged PMO pressure on Wilson-Raybould. Butts denied pressuring Wilson-Raybould and said he was stepping down so as to not distract the PMO from doing its "vital work."

The opposition began calling on Butts to appear at the committee along with Wilson-Raybould and other senior figures in the PMO shortly after his resignation on Feb. 18, but Liberal members shot down that request.

Wilson-Raybould, who was named veterans affairs minister in January and resigned just days after the SNC-Lavalin story broke, said she felt she was demoted for not doing as Trudeau and his staff wanted. Trudeau and the PMO deny this, saying that if former Treasury Board president Scott Brison hadn't resigned, Wilson-Raybould would still be attorney general.

With files from The Canadian Press

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