Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Is Premier Gordon Campbell following Richard Nixon's strategy on Basi-Virk case? Stonewalling not working

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours column

Basi scandal can hurt


I can see clearly now... that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate.

- Former U.S. President Richard Nixon

There is a standard political equation that says you can handle a scandal but the cover-up will kill you.

That was proven in 1972 when a foolish low-grade Republican Party effort to illegally wiretap the offices of the Democratic Party in the Watergate Hotel resulted in a cover-up that extended right into the office of President Richard Nixon, who was forced to resign in 1974.

All The President's Men was more than just the book written by the two reporters who broke the Watergate story, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post.

It was also a description of the fact that practically everyone in the Nixon White House got involved in the cover-up and "stonewalling" all Watergate questions.

After two weeks of a B.C. Supreme Court defence disclosure application in the case of David Basi and Bob Virk, the two former government aides charged with breach of trust and fraud, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell might want to rethink his own stonewalling strategy.

Because in what may become known as Basi-Gate, Campbell is ignoring serious daily defence allegations that officials in his government, including the premier's own office, and his B.C. Liberal Party, were deeply involved in improper media and political manipulation.

This could be an enormous mistake.

Despite the fact that the allegations made do not relate to Crown charges that Basi and Virk passed on secret government documents regarding the $1-billion privatization of B.C. Rail to a bidder, Campbell refuses to answer any questions about the conduct of his staff or party officials.

Those defence allegations include that Campbell's current press secretary Mike Morton and former B.C. Liberal Caucus Communications Director Mike McDonald were directly working with Basi to set up phony calls to radio talk shows and phony political protestors, paid for by the B.C. Liberal Party.

The defence also alleged that Campbell knew of some dirty tricks efforts, which included Basi himself calling Campbell.

But Campbell is stonewalling all questions, even on whether such activities are inappropriate.

"I'm not going to talk about any issues that arise out of this court case until such a time as the court case is complete," Campbell told reporters last week, while brushing off NDP opposition questions in the Legislature as well.

But how long and how well can that response serve Campbell and the B.C. Liberals when the Basi-Virk trial is expected to last at least six months and call high-profile witnesses like former Finance Minister Gary Collins?

We may see if stonewalling works better for Campbell than it did for Nixon.


BC Mary said...

Thanks, Bill. It's still hard to understand why the Big Daily newspapers aren't touching these momentous days in Supreme Court.

Especially worrying was the attempt last Friday by the Prosecution to obtain a publication ban. And the Defence having to battle against it. I mean, isn't it usually the other way around??

Why on earth would the Prosecution want to keep the public from knowing what goes on in this trial? Aren't they the ones supposedly standing up for the public interest?

Surely somebody on the Prosecution team realizes how politically suspect a publication ban would have looked?

I had to get confirmation of it from deep inside Times Colonist and even then, they wanted to remain anonymous. What the heck, eh?

You must be going a bit crazy trying to report on this stuff without getting into hot water.


RossK said...

So given the presence of this all encompassing, yet hastily erected, great Wall(y) of Stone....

...Does Mr. Collins' recent demand (through his attorney, Clark Roberts, who Mr. T. noticed in the courtroom early last week) that the Crown release any and all wiretaps from his break-bread (not legs) meet-up with the good folks from OmniTrax at the Villa Del Lupo mean that the former Finance Minister is now attempting to jump the great Wall's 'Moat of Fire'?

Or, alternatively, is this just a bit of short term deflector spin that is actually being orchestrated by the M & M Twins?


Anonymous said...

You are a tool. Comparing Nixon and Campbell. What are you smoking everyday? Media manipulation, do you not think other political parties have done this?

Maybe we should start talking about all the fake non-partisan societies out there with N-dippers on them.

Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks Mary - this is a very big and very complex case indeed.

On the Publication Ban - much rumours about this so let me clarify:

I was not in BC Supreme Court at that time but checked with both Crown and defence.

A publication ban was briefly mentioned by the Crown before lunch on Monday.

But - it was never requested by the Crown and therefore never rejected by Justice Elizabeth Bennett.

Therefore it is incorrect to say the prosecution attempted to obtain a publication ban.

Just so everyone is on the same page.

Anonymous said...

"You are a tool. Comparing Nixon and Campbell. What are you smoking everyday? Media manipulation, do you not think other political parties have done this? "

Who's the tool? Read it again. The comparison is in the stonewalling. The Liberals deafening silence and transparent attempts to avoid answering questions are the reason more than a few observers have made the comparisons between Nixon/Campbell.

If you haven't heard, the allegations are that this is tax-payer funded media manipulation, not some party volunteers stacking call-in shows. Get a clue.

Anonymous said...

Bill I disagree with your play with words. Its a fact the Prosecution stood up and requested a ban. I don't care how they spin this, they stood up and requested a ban. The judge was taken aback and asked the defence what they thought. The defence said absolutely no way. After this reaction and the fact the judge asked why the prosecution why they would do this at this stage, thats when the prosecutor sat down and never raised this point again. I was in court and heard this with my own ears! I even went up to ask the defence lawyers to clarify what I heard and to try and understand what had just transpired.

Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks Janet - I will take your word that you were there and heard what was said.

But I'm not trying to "spin" this at all! I'm just telling you that I spoke to both Crown and Defence and was told it was discussed but never formally requested.

And there's no percentage for either side to mislead on this issue.

Frankly, the "publication ban" is being overblown and is an unhelpful distraction from a complex case which requires a lot of attention on the testimony to date.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that Crown raised the possibility of seeking a publication ban and, given the reaction of the judge, decided not to pursue the matter. A form of testing the waters without making a formal application.

I'm just guessing passed on past experience. I wasn't in court on Friday either.

Anonymous said...

No offence intended to you Bill my apologies if it came across that way. Its your coverage that is getting the major media outlets to cover this case. If there is any spinning it seems to be happening on the prosecution side. Look what happened today. Magically out of the blue documents appear after this Priessl fellow gives testimony. How much do you want to bet this would never have happened unless this guy stepped forward and called the defence lawyers. What other surprises are still out there. The prosecution have a lot at stake, as do their cohorts the rcmp. I don't buy for one second that they see no advantage to spinning. Something tells me there is more to come. As we found out in the Arar case the rcmp don't lie, they just make "honest mistakes". The fiasco thats unfolding in front of the house of commons committee where senior rcmp officers all under oath are telling different stories is another "honest misunderstanding" and more "honest mistakes". I almost forgot to mention another "honest mistake" where debruyckere forgot to tell people about his close relationship with reichart. Yeah right, if you believe that than you also believe there are weapons of mass destruction still hidden somewhere in Iraq!

Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks for your comments Eleanor as an experienced courtroom lawyer - makes sense to me.

No apologies necessary Janet - I rarely take offence.

And as the son of a former RCMP officer I am troubled by the continuing erosion of the force's credibility as a result of poor decisions in this and other cases, most notably two fatal shootings by officers in northern BC.

Anonymous said...

Bill and Eleanor,

The problem with your analysis is this:
Coming soon, some answers about the 2003 raid on the legislature
Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun
Saturday, March 10, 2007

VICTORIA - For everyone still wondering about that police raid at the legislature three years ago, there was encouraging news in a Vancouver courtroom this week.

"The public interest in having this case heard outweighs just about everything else," declared Justice Elizabeth Bennett of the B.C. Supreme Court.

She spoke her mind at the latest procedural hearing in the seemingly interminable pretrial phase of the much-delayed case.

It was taken as a sign that the judge has reached the end of her patience with the legal wrangling and means for the case to go to trial, as scheduled, next month.

She surely spoke for many British Columbians, who've been subjected to endless speculation and doubts since police first descended on the provincial parliament at the end of December 2003.

The judge appeared to be taking the side of the public a second time during her comments at Wednesday's hearing.

"These proceedings have to be as open as possible," she said. "We will have a system in place for proper access to documents."

Meaning proper access by the public and the news media, as reporter Mark Hume noted in his account of the hearing, published in the Globe and Mail newspaper Thursday.

The case has generated considerable interest and much speculation in both conventional news media and the online variety. Check out Bill Tieleman's latest piece on the Tyee website. Or Google "BC Mary."

But members of the public are also following the case on their own, or trying to do so. Justice Bennett disclosed in court that she was in receipt of a complaint from someone who'd been denied access to a document that had been circulated in the news media.

The judge's attitude may not have been improved by the fact that the document -- an application from the defence for more disclosure of information -- had fallen into the hands of the news media before she'd seen it as well.

Perhaps that helped reinforce her determination to get on with the public airing of the case."

Remember? This application for a publication ban is extraordinary, given the above, and can only - it seems to me - indicate either pressure from outside or desperation on the part of the crown. You take your pick.

Anonymous said...

Bill, shouldn't the heading be entitled "BC Rail Scandal". It wasn't Basi who broke the election promise and then decided to sell bc rail. Seems to me this guy has taken quite a hit since the day this story broke. I am not taking sides but whatever happened to the presumption of innocence. It didn't seem to apply in this case, this guy was fired the day after the raids. Forget about charges, how about being accused of something before you are fired from your job. Must be nice to have such good friends like those bc liberals.

Marshall Smith the senior staffer was caught red handed on 4 seperate occasions peddling drugs in downtown Victoria. He was only fired after he plead guilty.

Doug Walls wasn't fired until it became public knowledge he was being investigated, even then he was able to continue, while under investigation, to run a government agencey that was responsible for millions of dollars. Remember this is a guy who plead guilty to fraud.

I guess the doctrine of fairness and the presumption of innocence doesn't apply to everyone.

This is my opinion, but don't tell me race has nothing to do with it.

Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks Anonymous but if either of your two reasons - Crown desperation or pressure from outside - were indeed responsible then why was there no formal application and no serious effort for a publication ban?

And remember - there are no documents being made available to anyone - media or public - at this stage. The only reporting possible is based on noting what is said in court - Justice Bennett's protocol on availability of documents is for the trial proper, not this defence disclosure application.

Anonymous said...

Well, Bill, my sources tell me there's a certain amount of desperation in the prosecutorial ranks and elsewhere. Berardino couldn't ask for a publication ban because he was in court the day Madame Justice Bennett made the statement (I think you were there too) Vaughn refers to in his column.

Having his junior make the request, in an ad hoc fashion was about all he had left and so that's what they did. Desperate situations require desperate measures.

There is no way Berardino didn't know what his junior was up to Bill. And there’s no way a litigator with his experience and stature was going to deliver that request. But there was no denying, in my view, the fact that there are interested parties who don’t want this evidence discussed in open court if they can help it.

As for the other issue. I think it's critical and I can't understand why the press, including you, aren't screaming blue murder about how far from the standard of public disclosure set by Madame Justice Bennett in early March is from what we're actually getting in practice.

I know you're shouldering way more of the responsibility of getting these things before the public than, let's say, the CBC or CTV, but still, someone needs to be asking why a strong commitment to the public interest in March seems is being delivered in a very niggardly fashion in May.

Go for it.

BC Mary said...

Bill, I wanted to kick something when I read what you said:

" ... there are no documents being made available to anyone - media or public - at this stage. The only reporting possible is based on noting what is said in court - Justice Bennett's protocol on availability of documents is for the trial proper, not this defence disclosure application."

which is exactly what I was saying at the top of this thread. If many professional journalists are attending this trial and NOT getting their stories published ... why? what's going on?

Don't blame the public for wondering if this is the New Media Monitoring.

Is it left to Citizen Journalists (bless them) like John, and Janet, and Eleanor, and the Anony-mice, to holler over the garden fence to let us know what's transforming our province?

Kick, kick, kick! Something is SO not right about all this.

Take this morning, in a Globe and Mail story by Gary Mason, there's an amazing statement (I've asked Gary about its "source") ... he's talking (down) about the RCMP again, and says: "It was also their fine investigative work that prompted a spokesman for the force to proclaim a few years ago that the tentacles of organized crime had found their way into the highest political offices in the province. A claim that turned out to be bogus."

A claim that turned out to be bogus. Yeah?

It would be a good thing, in everywhichway, if the Basi, Virk, Basi trial got underway fast, the courtroom doors opened, and the whole B.C. Rail story starts to be told in full.

It is very, very difficult to accept that 32 uniformed police would raid the B.C. Ministry of Finance and the B.C. Ministry of Transportation ... for no reason at all.


Anonymous said...

Mary, are you implying the horseman never make mistakesor make things up? What about raiding the house of a sitting premier for a sundeck??

RossK said...

Just so everyone knows, it was the actions of a member of the public, not the punditry, that led to Mdme Justice Bennett issuing the statement that was quoted in Mr. Palmer's March 10th piece.

(and Mary and Mr T. were on top of the story from the beginning, which involved a concerned member of the public named Robin Mathews)


BC Mary said...

Anon 10:06 -- please read what I said.

A journalist must provide some basis in fact -- and cite that source -- before going into print to say that RCMP Sgt John Ward's claim "turned out to be bogus."

So I asked Gary "Where's your source?" We haven't heard the trial. Are we sure that our government is clean? Or would it be wise to keep that warning in mind, as the evidence is given under oath?

Now that you mention it: why do you come dancing along at this particular moment, dear Anon, suggesting again that the entire RCMP is bad, bad? Why do you cite another incident, another "horseman" (his name was Peter Montague)? Not relevant. Not convincing in the least.

It's dirty pool, in my opinion, to target any group in society and start advertising them as bad, bad. It demeans us all. You especially.

Anonymous said...

Very good points Mary. You should tell that to the rcmp who decided to, according to documents read in court "to leverage organized crime" when talking about the raid on the legislature. Who do you think are shooting themselves in Vancouver and proclaimed prominently on tv, indo-canadians. Gee I would have to be really cynical to say the rcmp would hype something to take advantage of it. No way, absolutely not, they are all angels. That stuff you see unfolding in front of the house of commons committee where they leadership is pointing fingers at each other telling entirely different stories under oath is all a mirage, rcmp officers are pure as the driven snow, their badge gives them something we don't have. Go ask the women in prince george who have been terrorized by these bozo's, ask the family of Ian Bush, or Mr. Arnaud. Heck, give Glen Clark a call if you want to get an earful about the rcmp. I am still waiting for the "cancer of organized crime", the massive drugs, money laundering investigation that made it sound like it was Tony Soprano and his gang running the show in Victoria.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention Mr. Arar, please explain that to me.

Anonymous said...

Bill, all due respect to your father who was an rcmp officer. There are some good ones, don't get me wrong. Unfortunately the stench of the bad ones has started to make these good ones smell bad.