Jami-Lee Ross labelled as National’s leaker
National Party leader Simon Bridges has blamed the leaking of his travel expenses on National MP Jami-Lee Ross, who he says may be facing suspension.
However, just moments before Bridges announced the result of the party's leak inquiry, Ross unleashed a barrage of tweets, saying he had been falsely accused.
Ross, who went on leave for "personal issues" earlier this month, said Bridges was attempting to "pin" the leak inquiry on him.
"Some months ago I fell out with Simon. I have internally been questioning leadership decisions he was making, and his personal poll ratings which show he is becoming more and more unlikeable in the public’s eyes."
Ross also accused Bridges of breaking electoral law by altering his electoral donation returns, something Bridges said was a mistake and had amended on advice from the Electoral Commission.
But those within the National Party who support Bridges believe the leaking of the electoral returns information was done by Ross as a form of entrapment ahead of the inquiry announcement.
"This evidence led Simon to push me out on medical leave a few weeks ago. It was essentially an attempt to stop me from speaking publicly. I now have a duty to speak publicly on these matters. I will do so in coming days," Ross said on Twitter.
However, National deputy leader Paula Bennett confirmed to Newsroom she had been contacted by Ross’s medical professional four days before he went on leave to say Ross needed to take medical leave.
Bridges maintained he had no personal vendetta against Ross, and said he understood the MP's medical leave was an unrelated matter, not connected to the leak.
It is understood there have also been separate complaints to the National Party about recent behaviour by Ross.
The leak inquiry, which was carried out by PwC, concluded the source of the leak, and the sender of the text message from the person claiming to be the leaker, had not been identified “with certainty”.
But it went on to say: “The evidence we have identified points to Mr Ross.”
“Mr Ross may therefore be the text message sender.”
The report also detailed a series of phone calls between Ross, a police officer tasked with looking into the wellbeing of the alleged leaker, the journalist at RNZ who reported on the text message, and the Speaker.
The caucus would decide whether Ross would be suspended on Tuesday, Bridges said.
It is unclear whether Ross would attend the caucus meeting.
The bizarre latest twist in the leak saga comes just after National opposed the 'waka-jumping' bill, which would allow the National Party to push out Ross with two-thirds support of the caucus.
National MPs were briefed on the inquiry findings shortly ahead of the 1pm press conference.
Bridges' travel expenses were leaked to media in August, which led to the National leader pushing for a full independent inquiry.
The Speaker granted Bridges his inquiry, saying it would be led by QC Michael Heron.
The inquiry was subsequently called off after the leaker sent a text to Bridges, the Speaker, and a journalist, saying they were a National MP and had a long history of serious mental health issues. They warned an inquiry would put them at risk.
However, both the Speaker and the National Party held separate investigations into the leak. The Speaker's investigation was to determine whether his office, himself, or Parliamentary Service were involved, as had been suggested. The results of the Speaker’s inquiry were released last week, but the inquiry was carried out in private, and not publicly announced.
Meanwhile, National carried out its own inquiry, which the public was aware of.
The saga has seen Bridges' leadership widely questioned, despite his continued comments that he was in a strong position.
There are now also questions over the party’s internal polling, which according to Newshub had Bridges’ favourability ratings plummeting.
And on Monday there were the revelations Bridges had incorrectly filed his electoral returns.
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