A PARTY IN TATTERS:
Investigation by Selwyn Manning.
FOR ALL THE PRIME MINISTER’S PUBLIC BRAVADO contacts inside National speak of a party in tatters, with electorate-based campaign handlers fielding concerns from rank-and-file members, volunteers angry at their leader and their party hierarchy for allowing this ‘dirty politics’ scandal to get away on them.
But what is feared the most by National’s political elite is the pending dump of email correspondence between Jason Ede and Cameron Slater.
That, and revelations potentially contained within the cache of documents, is what National insiders believe may eventually place the Prime Minister John Key under oath.
However, let’s first consider the impact dirty politics revelations have had at the grass roots level, where things are beyond surreal.
For National’s volunteers, for those busy door-knocking on the campaign-trail, they are being confronted by a significant degree of public revulsion at dirty politics.
Understandably, the volunteers are fielding questions, and an inevitable cold-shoulder from others at a level few would have predicted.
The questions put to them are ones they cannot honestly answer. For the well-meaning public, they just want clarity which the honest facts can convey. But for National’s door-knockers, they cannot answer them because dirty politics is an issue the volunteers have been ordered to ignore.
The strain is intensifying.
Since the campaign began, National’s volunteers have been offering feedback up the chain. Their message has filtered up to campaign handlers, to campaign managers, to strategists, all the way up to Steven Joyce. What the Party’s elite do with that information is a volunteer’s guess.
But as one contact said to me this week: “There has been no crisis management around this [dirty politics crisis]. No one has gone away and read all emails sent by National MPs or National staffers to Cam Slater.”
And in a jab at the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Wayne Eagleson, the contact adds: “Heather Simpson [former Prime Minister Helen Clark’s CoS] would never have allowed this…”
FRUSTRATION FROM THE FOUNDATION UP:
Damage control? After a surprising revelation, I can report that neither the National Party hierarchy nor the Prime Minister, nor campaign manager Steven Joyce, nor the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff has commanded that a data-trawl of all communications between the Government’s executive wing, Ministers, political appointees, and National Party hacks, and Cameron Slater the founder of Whaleoil.
Contacts say the level of frustration for the party faithful “is devastating” for those trying to lift National to victory at the September 20 General Election. According to these sources, National Party members are “angry with few avenues available to them to express that anger”.
Well placed contacts confirm, that neither the leader John Key nor the Party president have initiated a sweep of Government, Ministerial Service, Parliamentary Service, or National Party communications so as to identify how broad has been communications with Cameron Slater and the Whaleoil blog.
As such, National’s campaign is flying blind, unable to predict what will be the next damning headline and revelation of a culture of malcontent and dirty politics that has been conceived at the very heart of New Zealand’s elected government.
One contact told me this week: “No one [in National] appears to be taking responsibility for damage control… National is swimming in donor money but campaign funds have been targeted to pay for the Team Key strategy, which is now seen as flawed. The funds were targeted to resource the campaign based on the political environment of two month’s previous.”
Another states rawly: “Key doesn’t have control of this. Hopeless.”
One contact speaks angrily about John Key. “He’s now exposed and unable to curb the attacks on the Party’s credibility”. His answers they say “ring hollow when Key is confronted over what’s the truth” – regarding the Security Intelligence Service Official Information Act release of declassified documents to Cameron Slater.
To put it simply, these well-placed people have lost confidence in their leader. Significantly, these contacts are not ones that enjoy high public recognition. But they are well placed inside the party, dedicated to social conservatism and centre-right politics. And they confirm that factions are positioning to cleanse the Party of its malcontent, that is if they are given the chance.
We have seen hints of this already in the media, commentary pushed by others naturally supportive of National and centre-right politics.
On Radio New Zealand Matthew Hooton deconstructed the Prime Minister’s claims that he was not informed of the release of official intelligence information to Cameron Slater in July and August 2011. Hooton’s verdict? That John Key is lying, or if he is telling the truth, then it is worse, as it demonstrates a culture of gross incompetence, according to Hooton. (ref. RNZ).
For his risky analysis, Matthew Hooton became the focus of the Prime Minister’s scorn. This led to Hooton making a statement to media clarifying the terms of his business’ relationship with the National-led Government and claiming it would be beneficial for all should the Prime Minister check his facts before unleashing scorn on him, a natural National Party supporter. (ref. Scoop).
Hooton’s anger is understandable. Key was expected to lead National to a resounding victory on September 20. Instead, it looks, as a best-case scenario, likely to need New Zealand First’s support to govern. What that means is, National will not be able to advance reform that the Party’s supporters demand. Many of these stakeholders are donors – some represent companies and corporate interests that contract Hooton’s business to lobby and advance a rationale in their commercial or political interests.
Consider this: When National insiders contemplate the likelihood of National’s party list vote sliding down below 45 percent, and they figure that National is toast if its support does dip below that line… they are not necessarily suggesting it cannot take the Treasury Benches, but rather its centre-right agenda is exhausted. In street terms, they admit National (as a vehicle designed to deliver such reform) is dog tucker.
Meanwhile, National Party contacts on the ground say the public’s questions follow a common theme:
- How long has this dirty politics stuff been going on?
- Who exactly has been involved?
- How many people within the John Key Government and the National Party have become involved with this dirty politics?
- Who allowed this rot to infect the Party?
- Who is ultimately responsible?
WHAT NATIONAL MOST FEARS:
What is clear is the most grave thing National fears is the release of emails exchanged between Whaleoil founder Cameron Slater and Jason Ede – the Prime Minister’s point-man between his office and ‘the bloggers’.
The Ede emails are communications that lead back to the Office of the Prime Minister, to John Key himself and his Chief of Staff who oversees the handling of this political appointee. Jason Ede was initially employed by former National Party leader Don Brash, his salary paid for by Parliamentary Service. But when Key took over he kept Ede on the payroll. And when Key became Prime Minister he appointed Ede as an advisor in his 9th Floor Beehive suite, vetted by the Security Intelligence Service, and once cleared, placed on Ministerial Service payroll.
Contacts inside National say Ede’s appointment was initially a mystery not only to the Party’s officials, but to their Ministers too. The question of what Ede’s purpose was, has for some been answered by the revelations in Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics.
Since the book went on sale, and certainly since the raw data began to be released by Rawshark, the hacker who obtained the correspondence, National’s once tight ship has become leaky. In a move to try and understand what is happening, National Party contacts, once reasonably dormant, have been talking once again.
For example, this week, after the resignation of Justice Minister Judith Collins was accepted by John Key, a contact I will refer to as Contact-A, whose role and position is extremely relevant told me: “Key is being drawn more and more to Jason Ede. He thrashed Cunliffe last night [a reference to the Christchurch public leader’s debate], not that many people saw it. But the Slater and Ede references are a sensitive issue.”
“The PM will do everything possible to throw JC under the wheel of a bus and declare the problem solved. The trick will be to tie the story back to him. They [meaning the Prime Minister’s staff] will be nervous.”
Contact A speaks of how National believes the most prominent polls elevate National’s true popularity by a few percent. And it hasn’t escaped National’s attention that TVNZ’s Colmar Brunton poll has identified troubled times ahead for the Party.
“The Colmar Brunton poll shows that the PM took at hit on the OIA issue. If the Ede material is hard, it will be a severe test for Key…
“National is absolutely locked to the PM’s credibility. This week’s polls will be interesting to see if National can hold at 48 percent. Their two-pronged strategy of the economy and a popular PM are being tested by MSM [the mainstream media].”
Again, the conversation led back to Jason Ede and the potential damage the cache of emails may have on John Key.
Contact A: “If Ede has plotted all on email, Key’s personal numbers will never recover. The party vote numbers will take a hit too. Colmar Brunton has always been National’s strongest.”
Besides expressing a genuine fear for what the future may bring, Contact A spoke of the impact on the candidates and incumbent MPs seeking another term.
Contact A: “Its devastating. The government desperately wants to talk about the economy and the pre-conditions for tax cuts.”
Contact A believes: “The PM lied over the OIA… How could he not know about sensitive documents on Goff being released when he admitted on Saturday and yesterday how efficient his office operated over the email alleging Collins ran a campaign against Feeley [the former Serious Fraud Office boss]. Its not credible,” Contact A said. (ref. NZHerald).
A FEW EMAILS between Jason Ede and Cameron Slater have already been released.
What they demonstrate is an attempt to conceal Ede as the true correspondent.
What we now know is Ede used email extensively to communicate with Cameron Slater.
One of Ede’s handles that he used to communicate with the blogger was firstname.lastname@example.org.
But where Ede slipped up was using his Jason.Ede@parliament.govt.nz email address to receive digitised copies of official government documents from a photocopier/scanner in the Beehive. Its address is: l9-Photocopier@parliament.govt.nz. The l9 referring to Level Nine, the 9th floor of the Beehive Executive Wing, the Prime Minister’s suite.
Once Ede received the documents from L9 to his Beehive email address, he forwarded the documents, adding correspondence and instructions, on-sending to email@example.com which was a second handle he used to then communicate directly with Cameron Slater.
As we now understand, Ede also used varied or dynamic IP addresses to access the internet in an attempt to mask his true identity. But again he failed to understand ICT communications protocols and sent on meta data and idiosyncratic hash data of which is forensically identifiable.
After being informed of the methodology Ede used, Contact A said: “Okay so he received the hard copy of the briefing paper, scanned it to himself, sent it to his hotmail, then sent it to Cam Slater. Its a direct link. The Prime Minister is accountable for that.”
At the heart of National Party concerns is whether the Prime Minister, or his representatives in his Office did in fact receive a full briefing by the Director of Security Dr Warren Tucker over his decision to release security intelligence information to Cameron Slater ahead of mainstream media and others.
The Prime Minister has stated publicly that he was not briefed on the pending release. This despite stating in 2011 that he was briefed by Dr Tucker (ref. video). Obviously this whole element of this issue is a matter for the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security to consider within the scope of her inquiry into the OIA release to Slater.
But the primary concern inside National is if John Key eventually provided the truth under oath, and if it were to be made publicly available, would that show he lied about the SIS briefing?
Contact A: “I am not sure if the emails will show the wording from Ede to Cam for the purpose of lodging a request. But it had to be discussed with Cam, he wouldn’t have known otherwise. And the government knew about the request because a Minister was discussing it [with] Cam prior to its release by the SIS.”
Contact A adds: “It’s preposterous to think the Prime Minister was blissfully ignorant of this whirlwind of leaks going on all around him.”
Two days passed before Contact A got back to me on this issue, and wrote: “Selwyn, do you know approximately when the Ede emails will be released? If people make false statements to Cheryl Glynn’s inquiry [the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security], the emails could provide the grist that prove that people lie under oath.”
THE PRIME MINISTER’S FUND:
“I don’t mind you informing XXXXXXXX what I am feeding back to you. But right now the only thing National has is a well resourced campaign and collateral on the ground. But none of that was designed for this effort, and many volunteers are confused, concerned and worried.”
That is the damning statement issued to me this week from a sincere, concerned, and loyal National Party politician.
We began to discuss how Jason Ede was resourced, while working in the Prime Minister’s office and after while working up the road at the National Party’s offices.
I raised it like this: “There is also the matter of the Prime Minister’s fund of which Ede used. Now as I understand it the PM Fund is resourced by the Party not MinServ. What is your understanding of this fund?”
The National Party politician replied: “I am not sure about the PM’s fund. I know the Party has set up the National Foundation fund for the Thorndon property, established as a legacy project.
“But the leader’s office will have a budget funded by ministerial services, and there is a budget to fund things like the research unit etc. But research units generally buy children who have few skills and no experience.”
Jason Ede could not have been provided access to the Beehive Executive Wing without significant clearance. He could not have obtained a swipe card to work on the 9th floor without the Prime Minister’s approval.
Was the Prime Minister’s Fund resourced by taxpayer funds via Ministerial Service? It looks unlikely.
Was the Prime Minister’s Fund politically resourced via the Party’s coffers? More likely.
But this is where it gets mirky. Jason Ede, while on the taxpayer payroll appears to have been resourced (not necessarily paid, but given a budget) in part by the Prime Minister’s Fund. If this claim is accurate, for what purpose was it used?
It gets mirkier still. We know Ede’s roll was to be a conduit between the Government and the blogs. We know there are allegations that the Whaleoil blog received payment for hits on its clients’ opponents. While this analysis is evidential-based, it is yet circumstantial. But it is proper to raise the question, in the Public Interest: was the Prime Minister’s Fund partly used to fund the Government’s hits, as they were communicated via Whaleoil?
On this point, the National Party politician said: “What I do know is that a National Party board member has previously expressed concern about those activities and considered that there were risks. But the National Party board is weak as the PM and Joyce are all powerful… Goodfellow [the National Party president] is held in contempt by a number of MPs.”
After some 24 hours, the National Party politician got back to me stating: “Your hypothesis regarding the Prime Minister’s Fund is correct… It is resourced by the PM’s annual fundraiser and nets tens of thousands, probably in the region of 100 to 200k.”
National’s insiders may largely claim to have not known what Ede was up to. They are not alone. The Parliamentary Press Gallery, also considered the true nature of Ede’s purpose after he was caught out taking photographs of the mess left after a Press Gallery Christmas Party… images that turned up the morning after on the Whaleoil site.
On December 11 2013 gallery chair Claire Trevette told Fairfax: “It does make me wonder what other contributions [to Whaleoil] Mr Ede might have made, as well as whether this is sanctioned by the prime minister in any way.”
For the record, the Prime Minister’s Office stated: “It is our understanding Mr Ede took pictures of the aftermath of the press gallery function and sent them to a blogger. Mr Ede did this off his own bat.” (ref. Fairfax).
In light of what the public now knows, was this statement a lie?
The drip-feeding of evidential material suggests the scope of the Prime Minister’s initiated inquiry is too narrow – given that it exclusively inquires into the Justice Minister Judith Collins’ role in the Whaleoil hit against the Serious Fraud Office.
Clearly this issue is much larger and broader than that.
Add to this the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security’s inquiry into the release of declassified intelligence information to Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater – while important and honourable, again will not satisfy the public interest in assessing whether the public ought to have confidence in the good and professional governance of this country’s affairs.
The Prime Minister risks undermining the public interest if he continues to refuse a Royal Commission of Inquiry.
Perhaps even more concerning is a growing unease among our diplomatic corp that a Royal Commission of Inquiry is now necessary on National Interest grounds.
The rationale goes that New Zealand must now be seen to actively repair a perception that its good governance principles have been damaged.
New Zealand’s international reputation as an honest broker on the trade circuit is at risk. This is a vulnerability where opportunistic trading economies currently competing against this Nation (in produce, agriculture commodity markets) may be quick to exploit.
But that issue will be fully traversed in the next installment of this investigation.