The story keeps shifting from hour to hour, as questions are raised (see Eddie’s post on Vance’s questions), and Key’s obfuscation is increasingly commented on. Now State Security Commissioner Iain Rennie, following ex GCSB chief Sir Bruce Ferguson’s interview on Campbell Live (see Bomber’s review), has come out and slightly shifted the story. He now says that it is quite a normal procedure for the Prime Minister to veto the shortlist:
Rennie said it was “ultimately” Key’s decision to scrap the shortlist of four candidates, but he didn’t believe the applicants were up to managing the shake-up they believed the GCSB needed.
In his qu & a with the press (video at the above link) Rennie dances on a pin, saying ultimately it was Key’s decision to scrap the shortlist, but also defending Key’s role as normal procedure and conducted under advisement.
[Rennie] said all short listed candidates knew there was a chance they might not make the interview process and that the Prime Minister would have some input.
“Those who were shortlisted were told the PM had considered their applications and they were declined at that point.”
Rennie is at pains to explain that all this was within normal procedures, and resulted in the best person for the job being appointed.
But this raises the questions about whether John Key has misled parliament and the country, in his insistence that he wasn’t involved in the selection process, and that, ultimately, all the decisions were made by Rennie. Key replied to Grant Robertson’s questions on 27 March 2013, saying:
Grant Robertson: What role, if any, did he play in recommending the appointment of Ian Fletcher as Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: His appointment was made by the State Services Commissioner, but if the member is trying to make some other allegation, then yes, I knew Ian Fletcher. I went to school with his brother. His brother was way brighter than Grant Robertson—
With the speaker’s help, Key avoided directly answering about his involvement.
On 28 March, Brownlee answered further questions on Key’s behalf:
Grant Robertson: Did the Prime Minister accept the first recommendation of the State Services Commissioner for the person to be appointed to the post of Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau, following the process begun in May 2011?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: My understanding is yes.
Grant Robertson: Did the Prime Minister either directly or indirectly intervene in the process for the selection of the Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The State Services Commissioner has the role of identifying persons who might be suitable for that role, then conducting appropriate discussions with those people, and finally making a recommendation to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister ultimately makes that appointment, and, of course, there were discussions through that process.
In the last sentence Brownlee fudges it somewhat, by making it seem that Key’s role was to rubber stamp Rennie’s decisions.
Also in Rennie’s press conference today (as linked above), he says he was surprised when he learned that Key approached Fletcher about the job.
“I was a little surprised when I had a call from Maarten Wevers.”
Wevers – now Sir Maarten – was then head of the department of prime minister and Cabinet. Key had told Fletcher to ring Wevers if he was interested in the job.
So Key certainly has been giving himself some wriggle room, but he does appear to have been misleading in indicating that he did not intervene in the appointment process. As Claire Trevett said, in her article this morning:
Key appears to take the same approach to the truth as to the economy: it should be flexible enough to withstand shocks….
Rather, he indulges in the science of obfuscation – a highly technical speciality.
On the Fletcher appointment, has Key employed this strategy in such a way to technically avoid being charged with misleading the House and the country?