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May 26, 2005
Adscam Reaches Paul Martin's Office (Updated -- Not Quite!)

Testimony yesterday at the Gomery Inquiry put Adscam into the office of Prime Minister Paul Martin (not quite -- see Update II) for the first time yesterday, as one of the aides working directly for Martin revealed that part of his salary was paid not by the government but a key Adscam figure. Gaetano Manganiello told Gomery that he was not the only one in the PMO who received money from Adscam contractors, either:

Gaetano Manganiello testified that he was one of at least three party workers in the Quebec wing's Montreal offices in the late 1990s who were paid by Mr. Corriveau even though they did not work for his firm. Mr. Corriveau, a close friend of Mr. Chrtien and a key broker in the sponsorship affair, earned $8-million in sponsorship subcontracts, according to evidence presented at the inquiry.

Mr. Manganiello is on a paid leave from his job as a press office manager in the PMO. He is the first person working directly for Mr. Martin to admit to any direct role in the sponsorship affair -- though in a smaller fashion.

Documents tabled at the inquiry yesterday show that Mr. Corriveau's design firm, PluriDesign Canada Inc., paid Mr. Manganiello $4,846 in 1998 and $23,213 the next year.

Mr. Manganiello said he knew that another Liberal co-worker, Philippe Zrihen, was also getting a salary from PluriDesign while working for the party. And he testified that he had seen inquiry documents indicating that a third Liberal office employee had also been on PluriDesign payroll.

Manganiello provides critical testimony. This establishes both a motive -- a perceived money crunch -- and a link for the corruption to the top of the Canadian government. No possible excuse can be made for a government contractor to make off-the-record payments to the aides to Paul Martin, except the intent to influence Martin and/or evade and obstruct political finance regulations. Corriveau, as a beneficiary of so many Sponsorship Program contracts, made sure that the money Martin's government gave him kept coming by keeping Martin in charge. (See Update II at bottom.)

This should devastate the notion that Adscam originated and stayed with the Jean Chretien regime. Corriveau supposedly was Chretien's friend, not Martin's, but Pluri Design paid off Martin's office, not Chretien's, or at least not just Chretien's. The Liberals might still claim that Martin himself was not aware of this new graft, but that gets harder to sustain and increasingly becomes an irrelevant issue. Clearly, the PMO is Martin's responsibility, and it was his business to know that Corriveau cut checks to his direct employees. Manganiello drove around in a Dodge Caravan for months that Corriveau supplied -- it was hardly a secret that Pluri Design had bought these people.

For its part, the PMO has decided to praise Manganiello rather than bury him in an attempt to gloss over the explosive and damning revelation itself, and even give themselves credit for exposing the corruption:

In a written statement yesterday, the PMO stood by Mr. Manganiello and praised him for his testimony. "We're proud of the honesty and directness Mr. Manganiello showed. . . . Hopefully, Canadians will see his appearance as evidence that this Prime Minister and this PMO are wholly committed to seeing the commission's work discharged successfully."

Now that's chutzpah. The PMO didn't need Gomery to reveal that Pluri Design had paid the salaries of their employees, after all; they simply could have admitted that, either in Parliament or to the RCMP. It took over two years and an independent investigator to get that truth out to the Canadian electorate. That statement amounts to little more than an attempt to spin a catastrophe into something banal and unworthy of attention. The unfortunate part of Adscam for Canadians is that it truly may be all of the above.

UPDATE AND BUMP: More details on this new, direct link to Martin's office appeared in the Canadian Press story this morning:

He said the then-boss of the party's Quebec wing, Benoit Corbeil, approached him at the Montreal headquarters and said the party was in dire financial straights.

Corbeil said the party could no longer afford his salary but explained the Pluri Design graphic firm, owned by Jean Chretien's friend Jacques Corriveau, could step in to pay him, Manganiello testified.

"I was informed by Mr. Corbeil that Pluri Design would pay my salary but I would continue working at the Liberal party,'' Manganiello told the inquiry, saying he was on the firm's payroll for nine months.

"He (Corbeil) didn't tell me why, but in all fairness, I didn't ask why either.''

Under cross-examination from Liberal lawyer Doug Mitchell, Manganiello said he agreed to testify after receiving a call from a top official in Martin's office.

Manganiello said he provided information on the alleged payments to Scott Reid, Martin's director of communications, who then forwarded the information to a Justice Department official.

He also told the inquiry two other Liberal workers were on Corriveau's payroll. He identified the men as Philippe Zrihen and Jean Brisebois.

Keep an eye on how the press treats this Manganiello-Reid connection. The PMO will want Canadians to believe that they immediately disclosed these payments as soon as they knew about them. However, that still doesn't get anyone off the hook. The issue for Manganiello was that the Liberals couldn't afford to fund the positions any longer. Why, then, didn't anyone in the PMO question the continuing employment of Manganiello and the others despite cutting their legitimate funding? Because they knew full well that funding came from other sources -- private firms owned by Liberal cronies that benefitted from government contracting.

No matter how much the Liberals try to perfume that arrangement and its eventual exposure, it stinks.

UPDATE II: A Canadian reader who wishes to remain anonymous points out a chronological flaw in my report:

He testified that he received the cheques from Corriveau and the Groupaction car when he was working in the Montreal offices of the Liberal party in 1999.

This was before he worked at the PMO and before Martin was Prime Minister. He wasn't an aide to Martin until four years after he got the cheques and the van.

The Canadian reader is correct, and I am mistaken in this instance -- at least neither report shows Manganiello working for the PMO at the time of the payoffs. But that still begs the question of why the PMO would hire Manganiello after having worked under that arrangement in the past. Were they really that clueless, or simply presumed they'd never be caught?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 26, 2005 7:45 AM

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