Harper says 'I did not know' about $90K

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government deploys a vast early-warning communications system to warn of potential problems on the horizon.

But Harper insisted Wednesday that he learned about his right-hand man bailing out an embattled Conservative senator in much the same way as other Canadians did: by seeing it on the news.

Not only was the prime minister not in the loop about Nigel Wright's decision to give $90,000 to Sen. Mike Duffy, Harper said, he never would have signed off on the deal had he been consulted about it.

He also described himself as "sorry," "frustrated" and "extremely angry" about the whole mess, which has forced his government onto a defensive footing and threatens its carefully cultivated image as a pillar of accountability and sound financial management.

"I learned of this after stories appeared in the media last week speculating on the source of Mr. Duffy's repayments," Harper said at a news conference in Peru, the first time he's taken questions publicly on the scandal since it broke last week.

He said he first assumed Duffy had paid back the money, which went towards housing expenses and per diems he shouldn't have claimed, out of his own pocket.

"Immediately upon learning that the source was indeed my chief of staff, Nigel Wright, I immediately asked that that information be released publicly. That is what I knew."

Harper continued: "I was not consulted, I was not asked to sign off on any such thing," he said.

"Had I obviously been consulted, more importantly I would not have agreed, and it is obviously for those reasons that I accepted Mr. Wright's resignation."

In the days immediately following the revelation that Wright had given Duffy the money, Harper had staunchly stood by his chief of staff and his spokespeople insisted that Wright's job was safe.

But Wright resigned Sunday, and Duffy quit the Conservative caucus last Thursday, after the details of their transaction began to emerge.

The arrangement between the two is under investigation by the federal ethics commissioner; Duffy's expenses in particular are being reviewed again by an internal Senate committee.

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