Via Stuff (sorry about quoting so much of your story, guys):
Judith Collins’ office processed an Official Information Act request in just two days to release an email embarrassing then Serious Fraud Office head Adam Feeley in 2011.
The revelation comes as ripples from the Dirty Politics saga widened during the weekend after a series of bombshells including:
■ Collins stepped down as Justice Minister after an email handed to the prime minister’s office raised questions about her involvement in what leaked emails appear to suggest was a campaign by Right-wing blogger Cameron Slater and others to undermine Feeley while he was SFO boss.
■ Prime Minister John Key confirmed there would be an inquiry into Collins’s actions in relation to Feeley, with details of the inquiry to be announced today.
In October 2011, Feeley was embarrassed after emails leaked by his former prosecutor showed he had toasted the prosecution of Bridgecorp managing director Rod Petricevic with Champagne obtained from the offices of the failed finance company.
Emails obtained by Fairfax Media, alongside one released by the PM’s office, appeared to show controversy over the incident was in part stoked by Slater and fellow blogger Cathy Odgers who had talked of being being paid – it appeared from the emails – by Hanover Finance’s Mark Hotchin to attack the SFO.
The allegation that some insiders – most prominently Matthew Hooton – are putting around is that as-yet-unreleased documents show Collins passing on information about the prosecution to Slater, who then passed it onto Hotchin’s defense team. If that’s true then it will be the biggest corruption scandal in New Zealand politics for many generations (feel free to nominate contenders in the comments). It is hard to imagine that any Justice Minister would be crazy and horrible and dumb enough to do that. On the other hand, Judith Collins tenure as a Minister has mostly been about crazy, horrible dumb things. So we’ll see.
Putting Collins aside for a moment, the revelation in the email released by John Key reveals some other pretty horrible stuff happening in our political-media culture. Mark Hotchin was under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office so he allegedly hired Graham, Slater and Odgers to smear the head of the office, and several senior journalists in the mainstream media are implicated in that smear campaign.
Russell Brown has an overview of what happened. Herald journalists Fran O’Sullivan and Jared Savage have published comments on the material in Slater’s leaked email, and O’Sullivan is especially indignant at the suggestion she was collaborating with Slater. I guess it’s just a huge coincidence that Slater wrote in a private email:
Cathy can outline her contact with Fran O’Sullivan separately. Basically though the Herald and other media are now picking up our lines that this situation is like “Caesar’s Wife” where the SFO must be beyond reproach. If he nicked a bottle of wine what else has he nicked or hidden from receivers and liquidators? …
And that O’Sullivan then wrote her column entitled ‘More than a storm in a champagne flute‘ vigorously attacking Feeley in exactly the way outlined in the email. Savage wrote six stories about the same subject. There was also a column by Deborah Hill-Cone – who bestowed Slater with his Canon award:
What does it say to his staff that it is OK to take a bottle of wine from one of the companies you are investigating? If that is OK – hey, it’s only a bottle of wine – what next?
It would be nice to know what was actually going on here. Did the Herald’s staff know they were collaborating in a PR smear campaign? Jared Savage wrote that it was ‘naive’ of him not to know that he was being manipulated by Slater and Graham. It’s a shame that one of the top investigative journalists in the country is such a trusting, innocent naif. I think we’re going to hear a lot of this over the next few months. ‘Gee, in retrospect I was wrong to trust Cameron Slater!’ But Slater hasn’t exactly hidden his utter, utter loathsomeness over the years. Pretty much the only nice thing you can say about him is that he’s been totally upfront about how incredibly unethical, sleazy, corrupt and hateful he is.
Journalists need to hold people like the head of the Serious Fraud Office to account. They need to source their stories, and they source those stories off people with an agenda of their own, and sometimes those sources aren’t nice people, and journalists also need to keep their sources confidential – but it seems really, really wrong for people like Graham, Slater and Odgers to exploit those prerequisites of a free press to make a living conducting vendettas against public servants on behalf of the people they’re investigating. And there seems to be something going on at the New Zealand Herald that makes it very easy for them to be used in these smear campaigns. I hope they try and fix it.
Update: Fran O’Sullivan wrote: My column was written b4 Slater’s email which quotes my column & NZH editorial.