Who leaked, and was there an accomplice?

It appears that most people assume that Jami-Lee Ross is lying when he denies the leak of Simon Bridges’ expenses that set off the spiralling saga that resulted in chaos this week.

What if Ross is right about this (he has misled and lied about other things)? It would be hard to imagine that there was a completely unrelated leaker involved, especially as Ross has admitted leaking subsequent information.

So a likely answer is that Ross had an accomplice. Someone else may have done the actual leaking of Bridges’ expenses – however this does not rule out the possibility that Ross supplied them with the information.

Tova O’Brien at Newshub reported on the initial leak so will know who provided her with the information, so it’s worth looking to Newshub coverage.

Newshub (20 October) – The Jami-Lee Ross and expenses leak mega-scandal: A timeline

August 13 – Newshub reveals Simon Bridges’ expenses a few days before they were due to be made public.

August 14 – Simon Bridges says he’s confident the source of the leak isn’t anyone in the National Party. He calls for an independent review.

If Ross used a proxy leaker then this may technically be correct.

August 16 – Mr Bridges, Speaker Trevor Mallard and Newshub political editor Tova O’Brien receive a text message from the leaker asking for the inquiry to be called off as they’re suffering from a “prolonged mental illness”. The sender also claims to be a member of the National Party caucus. None of this is reported until a week later.

The sender is apparently Ross, but has at least implied he was acting on someone else’s behalf. This in turn implies that he knows who the leaker was.

August 18 – Right-wing blogger Cameron Slater says there is “back channel chatter” the leaker is a member of the National Party caucus. He doesn’t name names.

What Slater claims has to be treated with caution. He likes to big note and tries to sound like he is deeply involved in action, but often just hints and often doesn’t front up with evidence.

Coincidentally perhaps Slater is known to be suffering from a “prolonged mental illness”.

September 15 – Simon Bridges says if it turns out an MP leaked his expenses, he wouldn’t necessarily sack them. He said he’d be “incredibly disappointed” if it turned out to be a National MP or staffer, but it wasn’t “worth getting too hung-up on”.

September 19 – Winston Peters tells Parliament everyone there already knows who the leaker is, while looking at Jami-Lee Ross’ vacant seat.

What Peters claims has to be treated with caution. He often makes accusations and insinuations without fronting upo with evidence.

He said if Simon Bridges doesn’t tell the public who the leaker is, he will. Blogger Cameron Slater says MPs and “well-informed” journalists know who the leaker is, as they’re being “shunned by caucus”.

As is common with Peters he didn’ back up his bluster – but it’s interesting that both Slater and Peters are making similar claims they know the leaker’s identity. More about this in another post.

September 30 – Winston Peters uses his platform at NZ First’s 25th anniversary celebrations to say Simon Bridges will be rolled as National Party leader before the 2020 election.

So, did Peters know that Ross was involved in what looks like an elaborate plan (that included Ross recording conversations with Bridges at least as far back as May, where Ross appears to try to entrap Bridges) to discredit Bridges and force him out of the leadership?

October 2 – Simon Bridges announces Jami-Lee Ross will be stepping down from the National Party front bench and taking leave from Parliament to deal with some personal health issues. Mr Bridges says it has nothing to do with the expenses inquiry.

October 4 – Jami-Lee Ross is reportedly “pissed off” with Simon Bridges for calling his problems “embarrassing”

October 15 – One of the most intense weeks in New Zealand political history begins with The AM Show’s Duncan Garner confronting Simon Bridges with a fresh set of leaks.

Later that day, right before Mr Bridges was due to reveal the inquiry’s findings, Mr Ross launches a pre-emptive attack on Twitter. He said he and the National leader had a falling out, denied being the leaker and accused Mr Bridges of breaking the law.

Mr Bridges minutes later says the inquiry had found Mr Ross was the likely leaker.

Also from Newshub yesterday: The ultimate guide to all the players in the Jami-Lee Ross vs Simon Bridges showdown

The headline says ‘all the players’, but the article states:

Here are the main players in the continuing saga.

One could assume that the original leaker was a ‘main player’.

Jami-Lee Ross – former National MP for Botany

That’s an odd description. Ross is a former National MP but he is still the MP for Botany (now an independent MP).

Minutes before his leader was to address media and out Mr Ross as the alleged leaker of his expenses, Mr Ross sent a series of tweets accusing Mr Bridges of falsely pinning blame on him.

Other ‘main players’ mention include Ross of course plus Simon Bridges, Paula Bennett, and Simon Lusk could be a main player. It is still not clear if Winston Peters is a main player.

There are a number of others named who seem far from being main players – National MPs Todd McClay Maureen Pugh, Judith Collins and Mark Mitchell.

Also named are Peter Goodfellow (National Party president), Greg Hamilton (National Party general manager), Aaron Bhatnagar, Zhang Yikun, and June Brigg (Pugh’s mother). They were only involved after accusations by Ross of donation problems and the release of a recording. I don’t think there is any suspicion that Pugh’s mum was the leaker.

There is no mention of any association with ‘leaker’ other than Ross.

Stuff in Personal and professional pain: Widening repercussions for MP Jami-Lee Ross

One long week later, Ross still emphatically denies he was the leaker.

​The person who started it all may still be out there – and if so, that person is probably looking on absolutely incredulous.

Maybe, maybe not. Few people seem to trust Ross, and most seem to now assume that he was the leaker despite his denials. If he got someone to do the dirty work for him to create some sort of ‘plausible denial’ it may be immaterial in the whole scheme of things.

The investigation that Bridges insisted on says that ‘on the balance of probabilities’ it looks like Ross was the leaker.

If not he was at least likely to have been involved.

While Cameron Slater is notoriously unreliable with what he claims, he has repeated a number of times he has known that Ross was ‘the leaker’ – like “He’s the leaker. Just accept that. I’ve known for months. The report confirms precisely what I have known.”

In any case, while the initial leak precipitated this chain of events it was not a big deal. What has become the big deal is Ross’ obvious big play to discredit and depose Bridges, and to cause as much mayhem and damage for National that he can.

Whether Ross leaked the expenses or not, whether he leaked them too someone who leaked them, is not important now.

What is important is that Ross appears to have been planning an attack on Bridges and National for months, and the leak was just used as a way of trying to precipitate chaos.

 

Twyford, NZ Herald, TV3 and Chinese surnames

On Thursday Cameron Slater made serious accusations of collusion of media with Labour, even story creation, against Herald on Sunday and The Nation/Mediaworks inSOMEONE ISN’T TELLING THE TRUTH AND MY PICK IS IT IS PHIL TWYFORD.

It’s quite a long (edited here) story.

Yesterday, before the ratbag agent was outed, I hypothesised that the whole story about housing in Auckland was a Dirty Media/Dirty Politics stitch up.

Firstly that the agent in question, Grant Hargrave, has denied handing any data to the Labour party, or speaking with anyone in the Labour party. He even says he doesn’t know them.

The newspaper who kicked this all off wrote:

Mr Hargrave said he did not want to be interviewed on this issue. “I very much would rather not talk about it, I’m sorry.”

But he did say that he had no idea how Labour had obtained the information he was sacked for passing on.

“I don’t know them. I don’t know the Labour people. I honestly just don’t know (how the party got it).”

So who did give the data to Labour then?

If you go back to the newspaper’s first story on the issue they said at the time:

The Weekend Herald has seen the leaked sales figures data and reviewed Labour’s methodology. The party updated its figures based on our feedback. We were not able to redo the analysis independently, as it relied on data sets such as the electoral rolls database, which is only available to political parties.

So, we know that the Herald worked with Labour before publishing the story which is surely against all journalistic ethics. When I say worked, they closely shared information and refined the data together.

We also know too that The Nation was heavily involved, because they prepped a show and arranged people to appear on it like Phil Twyford before the story was even run. That must include producer Tim Watkin.

Slater posted more commentary and quotes, heading towards:

Right now the focus should be on NZ Herald staff, in particular Anne Gibson, and staff on The Nation programme including Tim Watkin who is the producer.

They have a problem, because both outlets have shilled this data and had prepared in advance and worked with the Labour party on this data in order to get a comprehensive media uptake of the story.

And:

We have statements from Peter Thompson, denials from Grant Hargrave and contradictory statements from Phil Twyford.

All this means is that the data was laundered, by persons unknown, so far.

Hargraves handed over the data to media. The focus is now on Anne Gibson and Tim Watkin to explain how it was that they came to work with the Labour party when the leaker of the data says he never gave it to them and it was only supplied to media.

Phil Twyford has made many media statements now and they simply don’t hold water. I think it is safe to assume that he is lying about the involvement he claims about a whistleblower.

We also know that Labour data man Rob Salmond extensively worked on this data. So Labour’s involvement seems to be well after the fact and well after media got their hands on the data.

What is interesting too is the snippets of info I have gleaned today from other media sources, one of which told me that David Fisher was gloating, along with several of his fellow Herald staff members about “his” big real estate and housing story coming up. This was several weeks ago. So we know that the Herald has been working on this now for more than two weeks, possibly more.

To the final accusations:

What we have here now is the nub of the real story. That the Herald and The Nation got hold of some data, they knew that data was illegally obtained and would breach privacy laws. They needed clean hands and so they fed the data to Labour, then worked on it with them (self admitted) and then ran the story contemporaneously across their networks, all with Phil Twyford claiming that they were the source of the data all along.

We now know those claims are false and that Phil Twyford is lying at worst, or being economical with the truth at best.

What is more alarming now, given what has transpired and we have found out, is that the NZ Herald, in collusion with The Nation and the Labour party have laundered stolen data to give it a “public interest” wash, and removed themselves from the original crime of obtaining the data all to run a political hit job on the government.

There is a name for this, Nicky Hager coined it, it is Dirty Politics. It is also combined with my phrase Dirty Media.

Slater often tries to spread the Dirty tag around. To an extent it’s a fair point to make.

There simply is no other explanation for events.

Media contacts must have fed this to Labour in order to sanitise the data and give them clean hands, but the ham-fisted manner in which it begun, clearly with a trail that IT experts were able to quickly follow and then with Phil Twyford machinations have led to this unpacking on them all.

You have the largest print outlet seemingly involved in manufacturing a political story, working hand in glove with a political party and another media outlet, Mediaworks (The Nation) involved as well.

These are serious accusations against NZ Herald and Mediaworks and The Nation. They usually try their best to ignore Slater.

However Bill Ralston picked up on it on Twitter, asking questions.

Interesting ethical questions being raised about and giving the leaked housing data to @PhilTwyford

Ethical mainly although legal is also a possibility but seems nicked data is fair game.

Actually we can settle this quick. did you or Tim Watkin give the Asian housing data to ?

The Nation and producer Tim Watkin responded:

Oh that all. Not even going to honour that with a click, but FYI the data came from Labour to us

Yes we can. No. And it’s bloody insulting to suggest I’d favour a party.

Thanks for your speedy reply. Just asking the question and looking for the facts.

Sure. But you know I’d have to sack myself if so. & why think WO knows anything?

It would be unethical (& dumb) for journos to leak data to a party & dress it as its data

It seemed an astounding post and deserved your strong denial.

Mate, if I had that data, why would I give away the scoop?!

Ralston put the question to the Herald again:

Thanks for that. So did you give the data to ?

I can’t find any response from anyone from the Herald.

But Labour’s surname cruncher and data analyst Rob Salmond added:

Labour had data first & passed to both and . WO 100% wrong. Who knew, right?

While the way the Herald in particular handled the story remains questionable, depending on their degree of cooperation with Twyford/Labour, the puzzle remains about how the data got to Labour and from whom.

Twyford made it clear on a number of occasions that he dealt directly with a leaker – he describes them as a whistleblower.

Radio NZ reported in ‘Whistleblower’ sacking unsurprising – lawyer:

Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said the individual he worked with wanted to shine a light on a very real issue.

“The whistleblower came to me out of a sense of public interest.

“The person’s motivation was that they see a massive presence of off-shore speculators snapping up New Zealand’s homes and pushing up house prices higher and higher.”

Employment lawyer Peter Cullen said the staff member was not a whistleblower, and was justifiably sacked.

NZ Herald in Property data leak: Barfoot & Thompson staffer fired:

In a statement which did not confirm whether the fired staffer was his source, Mr Twyford said: “The whistleblower who I worked with wanted to shine a light on what is a very real issue for New Zealand – foreign investment pushing up house prices and shutting people who live here out of the property market.”

He said he had not revealed his source’s name to other Labour colleagues or staff, including leader Andrew Little. “I’m not going to reveal the identity or even speculate about the identity of the person or the firm from which the information was obtained.”

“I think the whistle-blower I dealt with did Aucklanders a favour and put this information into the domain out of a sense of public duty. I think Aucklanders owe that person a debt of gratitude.”

Under the Protected Disclosures Act, there is protection for “whistle blower” employees but it only applies in limited circumstances. It applies where an employee reveals serious wrongdoing such as corruption, conduct that poses a risk to health and safety, criminal activities or gross negligence by public officials.

But the person sacked by Barfoot and Thompson says he had not contact at all with anyone from Labour.

But he did say that he had no idea how Labour had obtained the information he was sacked for passing on.

“I don’t know them. I don’t know the Labour people. I honestly just don’t know (how the party got it).”

There’s a number of possibilities including:

  • Hargrave is lying.
  • Twyford is lying.
  • There is another leaker from Barfoot and Thompson who either had direct access to the data like Hargrave, or who received the data from Hargrave, and they passed it on to Twyford.

But:

Labour’s housing spokesman Phil Twyford, who released leaked real estate figures to the Herald, said Barfoot’s decision was “extremely disappointing”.

Why would Twyford be ‘extremely disappointed’ if he had had no contact with Hargrave. Unless perhaps he knew Hargrave had passed the data to his ‘whistleblower’.

And Twyford thinks his source/sources should be protected as if he was a journalist:

Labour’s housing spokesman Phil Twyford would not discuss the source, claiming the same confidentiality claimed by journalists. “I can’t in good conscience say anything about my sources or any of my contacts with the source and I intend to protect that confidence as you would as a journalist,” he said.

But:

University of Canterbury journalism lecturer Tara Ross said politicians did not have the same liberties in relation to confidentiality as journalists.

She said journalists answered to their audiences while politicians were vying for government. “There are plenty of occasions where material comes through an electorate MP in the first instance. It’s an important relationship.

“But it’s a difficult relationship on the basis they are a party political animal.”

And with doubt about the source of the data and how many hands it passed through it also makes dfata verification difficult:

Auckland university’s Professor Thomas Lumley – who has blogged about Labour’s analysis at statschat.org.nz – said the steps between the source of the information and the analysis raised questions about the data used.

“If there is a chain of people, you have to wonder if the numbers Labour analysed are the same numbers [that were] leaked. There’s no evidence its different but you can’t tell it’s the same.”

All this to show statistically that 39.5% of one real estate company’s sales for one three month period in one city sound Chinese.

And it started a massive debate on far more than foreign property purchases.

It’s hard to know what will come right first, the Auckland property market or Labour’s data analysis credibility or racial integrity.

Barfoot and Thompson sack leaker, Twyford ‘disappointed’

Barfoot and Thompson have identified the person who leaked sales data and have sacked them. Not surprisingly it was against company rules.

Stuff: Barfoot & Thompson fires employee who leaked sales data

Peter Thompson: “It’s disappointing that one person could jeopardise the whole company.”

Phil Twyford was disappointed that because of what he did an employee was sacked.

Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford said it was “extremely disappointing” to see the staff member lose their job over leaked data.

“The whistleblower who I worked with wanted to shine a light on what is a very real issue for New Zealand – foreign investment pushing up house prices and shutting people who live here out of the property market.

“This data provided an important snapshot of what’s going on in the Auckland housing market,” Twyford said.

“I think they did Aucklanders a huge favour, telling Aucklanders, giving them a snapshot of what’s happening in the housing market – information that the government doesn’t trust people with.”

The whistleblower approached Twyford because they wanted the information in the public domain, he said.

It’s highly debatable they could be called a whistleblower.

What did Twyford expect? What planet is he from?

It’s hard to find much information about his pre-political experience.

All Wikipedia says is that he was founding director of Oxfam.

All his Labour bio says is:

With a background in leadership, campaigning and advocacy Phil’s pre-politics career allowed him to hit the ground running when he entered Parliament.

Not much insight there.

He may have hit the ground running but he has been running a  bit too fast lately and risks falling face first on the ground.

“Goff is a serial leaker”

Keeping Stock comments at Kiwiblog on Phil Goff’s record as a leaker, the latest example the leaking of

Phil Goff was allegedly warned by the police recently for breaching a suppression order over the circumstances of the death of an NZDF member. Now it seems that Goff is responsible for knowingly breaching the embargo on the Gwyn report, in contravention of the instructions of Ms Gwyn when advance copies were released; potentially a criminal offence, punishable by up to one year in prison. Here’s how Bill English described it yesterday:

This is the man who leaked the findings of this report yesterday in direct breach of the confidentiality order that he signed, which states that it is an offence to leak it. So why would the public believe anything that the Labour members say about this report? This is the confidentiality order, and on the bottom it says: “Received and acknowledged”. That is, when you give evidence you sign it to say that you acknowledge that you are under a confidentiality order and that you acknowledge that it will be an offence if you breach it. Despite him personally acknowledging that, he leaked it.

Phil Goff is a serial leaker; “gone by lunchtime”, MFAT, NZDF suppression order and now this. I hope this matter is referred to the Police, and that on this occasion, it is decided that is IS in the public interest to prosecute Mr Goff, if for no other reason than to prove that NO New Zealander, even a 27-year veteran of Parliament, is above the law.

Will the media pick up on that?