Peters and Shearer leaks have similarities

Last year someone from the GCSB leaked to David Shearer with a claim there was evidence that never surfaced.

Recently someone leaked to Winston Peters with a claim there was evidence that never surfaced.

In both cases it seems that damaging the National Government was the intent, or at least an obvious consequence. The difference this time is that Dunne was either another target or just collateral damage.

The leak to Winston Peters has similarities to the leak from GCSB to David Shearer last year, where a serious accusation was made (in that case against John Key, in this case Dunne) with a suggestion there was evidence (in that case a video recording, in this case phone records/emails) but the evidence was never produced in either case.

It appears that in both cases Shearer and Peters never actually had evidence, but they were convinced enough by the leaker that it existed.

Individually these leaks are serious. If there is a connection between them that is even more alarming.

The leaking of the Kitteridge report was embarrassing for John Key and National but it was just an early release of a report that was due to be made public a week later.

And as media have made clear, leaking is normal and very common. Colin Espiner blogged:

And how these things work is that almost everyone does it. 

Peters is the king of leaks, although he doesn’t betray a trace of irony in his demands for Dunne to face a police investigation. Almost every cause Peters has championed, from the Winebox to Simunovich Fisheries, was the result of inside information – some of it rather unreliable.

And it goes all the way to the top. Former Labour prime minister Helen Clark leaked like a sieve. I was one of many reporters to benefit from this mine of information. Clark was upfront about her leaking and didn’t apologise for it. After providing information about a late-night breath test involving former police commissioner Peter Doone that got the top cop sacked, Clark simply shrugged and pointed out she was the prime minister: “By definition I cannot leak.”

There are very senior people sitting around Key’s Cabinet table who have leaked information to me in the past. And every other reporter in the press gallery I’m sure. So the current prime minister should be careful not to protest too much.

Dunne steadfastly maintains he didn’t leak the Kitteridge report. There is no evidence that he leaked it. The David Henry investigation ended up looking only at Dunne as a suspect but had no evidence and didn’t investigate other more likely possibilities (in particular that the leaker avoided using parliamentary email or phones to communicate with Vance).

But the political pressure on Dunne – in particular from Winston Peters and Trevor Mallard – is aimed at destroying the career of a three decade MP, destroying a political party, and it could be argued, to bring down the Government (or at least to seriously damage the Government). It has also impacted on the careers of public servants whop worked for Dunne and for United Future.

This has been aided and abetted by some media.

But, possibly because Winston Peters leaks so much, the leaking to him of details of the David Henry inquiry has virtually escaped scrutiny. And it isn’t just another politician leaking – it is more likely to have been a public servant leaking. And the most obvious motives for leaking to Peters are:

  • to put pressure on Dunne to reveal emails or admit he leaked
  • to pressure Dunne to make a mistake that could then be used to damage his career (and damage the Government

Either of those is far more serious than leaking a report a few days early.

But for some reason the media haven’t been interested. Why?

It’s obvious some of the media revel in the headline making that Peters is good for, and are happy to make the most of that. Is the media afraid to hold Winston Peters to account? Or do they just want to keep the story making relationship going?

What was leaked to Peters?

Peters made many claims and insinuations about what information he had received.

He was happy to allow the media to give the impression he had emails or had at least seen emails that Dunne had not released, but when finally pressed on this by John Campbell he admitted he didn’t have “sufficient” evidence.

And his evidence story kept changing as information became known. He initially claimed (in Parliament) that the proof was in the phone records, but when the Henry report pointed at emails he switched his claims to emails. And he later changed to “electronic records” when he was pushed on whether he had copies of emails.

So Peters’ claims of evidence are not credible. I think it is most likely he was not given any evidence.

The only thing Peters claimed with certainty was that Dunne leaked the Kitteridge report. He accused Dunne of this under the protection of parliamentary privilege. And he accused Dunne outside Parliament after the release of the Henry report.

Peters was told by someone that evidence pointed strongly at Dunne being guilty of leaking, but it is likely no specifics where given, as it became obvious Peters had no evidence.

It seems that someone who was credible to Peters told him just enough information to give him confidence to accuse Dunne.

Who leaked to Peters?

Someone with inside knowledge of the progress of the David Henry investigation must have leaked to Peters, either directly or via an intermediary.

I’d be very surprised if David Henry was directly or knowingly involved in the leak to Peters. That would be contrary to his reputation as a trusted public servant. But it should be noted that many were surprised that Dunne would have leaked. A number of journalists commented on this – Colin Espiner said:

Why do politicians leak so badly? There are many reasons. Sometimes they need to get information out in the public arena but can’t release it themselves. Sometimes they do it for venal reasons, such as to spite an enemy – or just as often, a colleague. Sometimes they do it because they believe it is right. And sometimes, just because they can. Being privy to an enormous amount of sensitive and juicy information is just too much for some MPs.

The only surprise is that Dunne became one of those. His nickname was Captain Sensible.

It was be as much if not more of a surprise if Henry leaked.

But there were others involved in Henry’s investigation. This is detailed in his report.

Appendix Three: Processes used in the inquiry

Overview

2. The Inquiry was led by David Henry. Isaac Holliss, from DPMC, was seconded for six weeks to assist him. Substantial assistance, particularly in the gathering of records, was also provided by staff at the GCSB, the Parliamentary Service, Ministerial Services, and DPMC.

I think it’s unlikely the leak would have been from anyone in the DPMC (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet). They should be loyal to Key and to the National cabinet. But it can’t be ruled out.

I don’t know what involvement the Parliamentary Service or Ministerial Services had. A clerk from the Parliamentary Service is the prime suspect in the MFAT leak to Phil Goff and there are rumours that it was a politically motivated leak. The suspect has had their previous employment suppressed, and Labour have argued strongly for this investigation not to go ahead and for information not to be made public.

The GCSB has to be a quite likely potential source of the leak.

Last year there was a very similar type of leak from GCSB to David Shearer, where Shearer claimed there was evidence of a recording that implicated John Key in not being truthful about his knowledge of Kim Dotcom.

Like Peters Shearer was unable to produce any evidence and was strongly criticised and embarrassed by his failed accusation.

It is not out of the question that a similar leak occurred here, either directly to Peters or via an intermediary.

There is nothing to implicate Labour in this – apart from close similarities with the Shearer attempt to score a hit on Key.

It appears that someone in the GCSB attempted to damage Key and his Government last year. It could have been tried again.

It’s not known whether Peter Dunne was just collateral damage when targeting the Government, or whether he was also seen as someone to be punished. Dunne had already expressed concerns about the GCSB.

And it is likely that the leaker would know Dunne would be far less able to defend himself and fight back than if the Government was directly attacked.

If public servants have been involved in using Winston Peters to damage Dunne and the Government it must be a serious issue. Surely it deserves much more scrutiny.

Winston Peters is happy to be scoring hits against an old foe but it’s likely he has just been a convenient tool.

This is not just about whether Dunne has been hard done by or not.

If someone in the public service is using leaks to attack the Government to the extent that it potentially threatens the viability of the Government that is very serious stuff.

Why does no one seem to care about it?