Opposition's 'smoking gun' leaves Key unscathed

Published: 7:42AM Thursday August 21, 2014 Source: ONE News

The Prime Minister has spent the day on the campaign trail batting off opposition claims of a "smoking gun" over the release of sensitive information to right-wing blogger Cameron Slater.

It followed the release of two letters today which appeared to cast doubt on John Key's insistence that he didn't know about the handing of information to Mr Slater, the blogger behind the website Whale Oil.

It's alleged that a Government insider helped Mr Slater with an Official Information Act request in 2011 that proved then Labour leader Phil Goff had been briefed by the Security Intelligence Service when he had said he hadn't been.

Mr Key, the Minister in Charge of the SIS, insists he wasn't aware of the OIA request.

However, Labour has produced evidence it says shows Mr Key was told.

The first was a letter to a Newstalk ZB journalist. In it, then SIS boss Warren Tucker says that while there was no written correspondence with the Government and the Office of the Prime Minister over the OIA request, he had "notified the Prime Minister" as usual to keep the Prime Minister "informed" on a no-surprises basis.

"In this particular case, I wasn't personally informed," Mr Key said today. "My office was informed about the timing and it says quite clearly that so was Mr Goff's."

Shortly after that response, another letter was released, this time from the Ombudsman's Office concerning Newstalk ZB's complaint over its official information request. That letter talks about Dr Tucker and his "discussion with the Prime Minister". It goes on to say the SIS had good reason to withhold Dr Tucker's "full recollection of his discussion" with the Prime Minister.

"I think that's a very serious development," Labour leader David Cunliffe said. "I think it it defies belief to imagine the Prime Minister was not briefed."

But Dr Tucker backs John Key, saying his reference to discussions with the Prime Minister actually meant discussions with the Prime Minister's Office.

Ombudsman Beverley Wakem says Dr Tucker and Mr Key are correct.

Mr Key himself says he was out of the country on holiday at the time of the OIA release.

Mr Key won't say who was briefed in his office. But he says it wasn't Jason Ede, the so-called "blackops" staffer who is pinged in Dirty Politcs for feeding stories to Cameron Slater.

Key 'looking on pretty solid ground'

ONE News political editor Corin Dann says when the letters appeared this morning "it looked pretty damaging and it might have been an uncomfortable day for the Prime Minister".

But he says with the likes of the Ombudsman backing John Key, "I think he's looking on pretty solid ground on this issue".