Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Harper's Bruce Carson debacle rolls on

What a mess this thing becomes as the days go on. Last night there were conflicting reports on the question of who it was, exactly, who gave top level "Secret" security clearance to Bruce Carson, Harper's former senior adviser.

The Chronicle Herald said it was William Elliott, the current RCMP Commissioner who is departing in the summer. If it was Elliott, that raises some substantial questions (more on that below). Here's the Chronicle Herald:
The security official who played a key role in approving the hiring of Bruce Carson at the Prime Minister’s Office now heads the RCMP, which is looking into allegations of influence peddling against Carson.

William Elliott, a former Conservative staffer who Stephen Harper named commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2007, was serving as national security adviser in the Privy Council Office in January 2006, when Stephen Harper’s team was getting ready to move from the office of the leader of the Opposition into the Prime Minister’s Office.

A source with knowledge of the process has confirmed that Elliott was involved in the security clearance for Carson. (emphasis added)
So Elliott was "involved in" the Carson security clearance according to this report.

Similarly, CBC also reported the Elliott connection to Carson:
The current head of the RCMP was responsible for giving security clearance to one of Stephen Harper's former top advisers with numerous criminal convictions.

CBC News has learned William Elliott, who was serving as national security adviser in the Privy Council Office in January 2006, was the official responsible for giving the green light to Bruce Carson working in the Prime Minister's Office. The RCMP is currently probing allegations that Carson was involved in illegal lobbying.
But then, Canadian Press reported that Elliott was not involved:
A senior intelligence official denies the RCMP commissioner green-lighted a security clearance for Bruce Carson, despite his criminal past.
...
"...the senior security source, speaking to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity — both before and after the reports surfaced — said Elliott was not involved in the file.

The official, who has direct knowledge of the matter, says the national security adviser keeps a close eye on threats to Canada but rarely plays a role in security screening. It would be "very unusual" for him to "be directly involved in questions of clearances." (emphasis added)
What to make of the conflicting reports we're getting then? A "source with knowledge of the process" says yes, Elliott was involved. An official "who has direct knowledge of the matter" says no, Elliott was not involved. Well, it seems somebody's not telling the truth. Both positions can't be true.

And maybe we have conflicting motivations going on here, which would spell bad news for Harper.

The first version wants to out Elliott as being involved in Carson's security clearance. If that's true, Elliott as RCMP Commissioner has an investigation under his RCMP roof that is going on into Carson's illegal lobbying allegations. There would be conflict of interest questions surrounding Elliott that would arise. An RCMP investigation going on during an election needs to be handled with utmost integrity given Canada's track record (see RCMP interference in 2006 election referenced in the Chronicle Herald report).

Second, it would mean the present day RCMP Commissioner in his former role of national security adviser was involved in approving Carson with his five fraud convictions for a security clearance. Then Harper subsequently promoted Elliott to RCMP Commissioner. Which would raise questions again about Harper's judgment surrounding the Elliott RCMP appointment. There might also be questions about the Harper/Elliott relationship and how independent it is. 

The second version says Elliott was not involved in Carson's security clearance. If that's true, it would protect Harper from such questions about his judgment and would stave off calls for Elliott to recuse himself from the Carson RCMP investigation. Granted, we don't know whether or to what extent he might be involved in that investigation.

It's a remarkable conflict in accounts at some pretty high levels that's spilling out. That in and of itself is disturbing. It spells trouble and means the story's not done. The integrity of that RCMP investigation seems to come into question now regardless of who is telling the truth.

And at the root of it all remains Harper having knowledge of Carson's long ago disbarment and jailing for fraud and still wanting to hire him on as a senior adviser. But for that, we don't get here.