Les Whittington, Richard Brennan, Toronto Star
May 24, 2008 04:30 AM
OTTAWA—An investigation of a leak from Stephen Harper’s office that hurt U.S. Senator Barack Obama’s political hopes confirms that the affair probably arose from comments by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Ian Brodie.
Investigators concluded after a two-month probe that the incident, which raised questions about future Canada-U.S. relations, originated with informal remarks that Brodie made to CTV reporters in Ottawa.
The probe also confirmed that Michael Wilson, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., probably had a hand in discussions with reporters that led to the uproar.
Yesterday’s report from Kevin Lynch, the government’s top public servant, provided new details on the role of Brodie and Wilson in the incident even though it pointed out that there was no evidence that either man disclosed “classified information.”
The scandal started when Brodie indicated to CTV News staff in a private conversation on Feb. 26 that Senator Hillary Clinton’s tough talk on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement was only campaign rhetoric.
That led to a conversation between a CTV reporter in Washington and Wilson, which was followed by a CTV report that Canadian officials in the U.S. had been told by the Obama campaign that his demands to reopen NAFTA were mainly political posturing.
This news reportedly hurt Obama’s chances in two key Democratic Party primaries and generated accusations of political interference by the Harper government in U.S. political affairs.
The investigators were unable to find out who gave The Associated Press wire service a leaked copy of a Canadian diplomatic report on a Feb. 8 meeting between an Obama adviser and a senior Canadian diplomat in Chicago.
A subsequent account of the meeting by Canadian officials indicated that Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee had informed them that Obama’s criticism of NAFTA could be taken as “political positioning.”
The report said Foreign Affairs had misclassified the memo and allowed it to be circulated too widely.