Ex-senior aide Gerald Butts defends Trudeau amid political crisis

GETTY Justin Trudeau holds a press briefing during the United Nations General Assembly

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancels visit to Regina

Former attorney general and justice minister Wilson-Raybould said last week that she faced attempts at interference and "veiled threats" from the prime minister and members of his inner circle over a corruption trial facing Quebec-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

Gerald Butts, Trudeau top aide and close friend, resigned last week and denied that he or anyone in the Trudeau's office pressured Wilson-Raybould.

Trudeau has been on the defensive since the Globe and Mail newspaper reported February 7 that Trudeau's staff put pressure on ex-Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to try to avoid a criminal prosecution of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin over allegations of bribes for government contracts in Libya.

"We know what it's like when a company or a community collapses", he said, referring to the shutdown of the coal mine operations in which thousands of people lost their jobs.

When she refused to cave, Wilson-Raybould says, Trudeau fired her.

Butts says he and others tried only to persuade Wilson-Raybould to seek independent legal advice on the matter, given the potential impact on the company's 9,000 employees and the fact that remediation agreements are a new feature in Canadian law.

Just yesterday, the Trudeau administration was rocked by the resignation of another Cabinet official, Jane Philpott, who said it was "untenable" for her to remain on and defend the government amid the scandal.

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It's rare for the prime minister to uproot his break week tour to deal with controversy, and former Conservative Justice Minister PeterMackayy tells us it shows how serious this is. A conviction would keep the company from getting government contracts for a decade.

After weeks of mounting pressure and some high-profile resignations from his administration, Trudeau allowed Wilson-Raybould to testify in front of Parliament and she promptly delivered a bombshell testimony.

Butts, in his opening statement, told the committee that he believed any discussions that Prime Minister's Office officials had with Wilson-Raybould were about asking for her to consider a second opinion.

Mr Butts said that it was always understood that any final decision on whether to offer SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement was for the attorney general alone to make. So far, other Liberal Cabinet ministers are rallying around him.

"These events involved 11 people (excluding myself and my political staff) - from the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council Office, and the Office of the Minister of Finance", she said.

"I want to say that I deeply regret that the former minister's [Wilson-Raybould] trust and faith in the many colleagues she served alongside for three and a half years has eroded so much", he said. She then quit cabinet and gave her version of events in explosive testimony last week.

"I think its quite plausible that Gerry Butts didn't register how distressed Jody Wilson-Raybould was particularly because their conversation was friendly", May said.

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