Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is up for re-election in eight months, and he's suddenly facing the biggest political scandal of his career. The issue made national headlines Wednesday when Trudeau's former attorney general testified before a parliamentary panel and accused the prime minister and his top aides of exerting inappropriate pressure on her to go easy on a huge, politically influential company accused of corruption. The details:
- The issue: It involves the engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin, which is based in the key province of Quebec. Canadian prosecutors have charged the company with fraud and bribery over its business dealings in Libya, reports the BBC. The company wants to settle instead of going to trial.
- The pressure: Former AG Jody Wilson-Raybould said top Trudeau aides pressured her in the final months of 2018 to agree to a settlement. She recounts about 10 tense meetings and 10 phone calls. “I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion." However, she characterized the pressure as inappropriate, not illegal, reports the New York Times. Wilson-Raybould refused to interfere in the case, and it remains set for trial.
- Key exchange: Wilson-Raybould recounted a September meeting attended by Trudeau in which he told her that SNC might leave Quebec if the case went to trial and urged her to "find a solution," reports the Globe and Mail. "My response—and I remember this vividly—was to ask the PM a direct question while looking him in the eye. I asked, 'Are you politically interfering with my role/my decision as the AG? I would strongly advise against it.' The Prime Minister said, 'No, No, No—we just need to find a solution.'"
- Trudeau's response: The PM said Wednesday that he “completely disagreed” with his former AG's version of events. Trudeau acknowledged expressing his worries that a guilty verdict at trial could result in lost jobs, but he insisted that the decision on whether to pursue a settlement was always Wilson-Raybould's alone, per the Wall Street Journal. He said he and his staff "always acted appropriately."
- Gone from Cabinet: Wilson-Raybould was switched from the justice ministry to the veterans ministry in January, which she described as a punishment for her refusal to get the case dropped, reports the CBC. Last month, she resigned from Trudeau's Cabinet entirely. She remains a member of parliament, though her status as a member of the Liberal party (her current party and that of Trudeau) is in doubt, reports the National Post. Trudeau has the authority to decide whether she remains in the Liberal caucus or can seek re-election as a Liberal.
- The damage: “This story is potentially toxic for the prime minister’s image,” Daniel Beland, a political analyst from McGill University, tells the Journal. Trudeau has pitched himself as a champion of transparency. In the wake of Wilson-Raybould's testimony, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party called for Trudeau to resign and for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to open an investigation into obstruction of justice.
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