Friday, May 15, 2009

Brian Mulroney Cross-Examined

Oliphant Commission lead counsel Richard Wolson conducted a tenacious, but polite cross-examination of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on Thursday.

Mr. Wolson focused in his questioning on Mr. Mulroney's failure to fully disclose the nature and extent of his ongoing business dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber when Mr. Mulroney gave discovery evidence in his 1996 lawsuit against the federal government.

Mr. Mulroney reiterated throughout that he answered the specific questions asked on discovery, and in accordance with his lawyers' instructions at the time, did not volunteer information in the absence of a specific question.

CBC provides excerpts of the testimony at Lawyer challenge Mulroney's 1996 testimony during Airbus lawsuit:

Wolson pressed Mulroney, asking about his response to the question of whether he maintained contact with Schreiber after he left office.

Mulroney responded in 1996 that from time to time he and Schreiber had met for coffee, but didn't discuss their business relationship or the three cash payments Mulroney received in 1993 and 1994 at three hotels.

Wolson asked Mulroney if — when he testified in 1996 that he had coffee with Schreiber twice — he was "being totally fulsome, forthright, telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

Mulroney answered: "I was truthful in answering the specific question, which was 'Did you maintain contact with Mr. Schreiber?"

Had the question been asked whether he had a business relationship, Mulroney said he would have responded, yes, but that question never came in 1996.

"Never came because no one knew about it but you and Schreiber and [Fred] Doucet and someone in Germany. That's why it never came," Wolson responded.

"It never came because, as I say, the high-priced talent that had been retained by the government did not ask me the question," Mulroney said.

Mulroney said under Quebec law, he was under no obligation to volunteer any information.

Wolson asked if he thought Mulroney, as a former prime minister, should have testified that he had a "legitimate business relationship" with Schreiber.

"I indicated to you exactly what I was told in those circumstances from my lawyers — answer the questions truthfully. Do not volunteer information," said Mulroney.

But Wolson asked Mulroney why, if he wasn't there to volunteer information, he testified that Schreiber had retained former Liberal cabinet minister Marc Lalonde.

"How do you explain the difference? You're volunteering information about a retainer of Mr. Lalonde, not having been asked, but you don't say anything about your retainer [with Schreiber]?"

Mulroney told Wolson that Lalonde was specifically involved in the relocation of the Bear Head project to Montreal and it was in that context he mentioned him.

Later, Wolson said he could see why Mulroney might be reluctant to admit taking the money, "because it would have been like putting gasoline on a fire,”

"But I don't understand why you can't admit that you simply didn't tell him for that reason, because it would have just spread like wildfire, this poisonous atmosphere that existed."

"The answer is that he never asked me the question," Mulroney said.

He said he was in a terrible situation at the time of the Airbus accusations.

"The nine lawyers sitting there … out to crush me and my family … this was not conducive to a friendly exchange of information or compromise.

"I was fighting for my life and the honour of my family."

Students of the adversarial process will not want to miss this video. It provides a rare example of a masterful cross-examination of an extremely adept witness in a Canadian legal proceeding.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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