National's election campaign was again thrown into disarray yesterday as Prime Minister John Key was forced to deal with more fallout over dirty politics.
The party faced a series of swirling rumours stemming from links to attack blogger Cameron Slater and allegations made in Nicky Hager's latest book, Dirty Politics.
They included speculation he had met embattled Justice Minister Judith Collins, who has already been the subject of a hoax resignation letter.
There was confusion about whether Key was personally briefed about the hasty release of Security Intelligence Service briefing notes to WhaleOil's Slater, which were denied to journalists.
It was open season on the party, and much of the damage was done by the time Key appeared in front of media yesterday afternoon to hose down the hearsay.
"By lunchtime we had had three [rumours] and none of those correct," Key said. There was a "real risk that a hacker and people with a Left-wing agenda are trying to take an election off New Zealanders".
The most serious claims were around the release of the SIS notes in July 2011, which is being investigated by the spy watchdog.
They showed former Labour leader Phil Goff was briefed by SIS boss Warren Tucker about suspected Israeli spies caught up in the Christchurch earthquake.
Slater used the documents sent to Goff, who wrongly said he was not briefed.
Earlier this week Key said he was not personally informed about the release of the documents, made under the Official Information Act, although his office was told.
Two letters emerged yesterday morning, stemming from an Office of the Ombudsman's investigation, which appeared to suggest Key was informed of the request.
But Key said he was on holiday in Hawaii at the time and was not told by Tucker. He said he was "categorically" not involved in the release.
His version of events was backed by Ombudsman Beverley Wakem and Tucker himself. He refused to say which staff member was told about the OIA release and did not pass it on.
Collins - under fire for passing information to Slater - did not meet Key yesterday at his Auckland home, as claimed by a caller to a radio station.
A spokeswoman said she was addressing a business breakfast at the time. And Key said social media speculation that Young Nats in Hamilton were planning a book burning were "not true".
Key stuck to his guns that the claims stemming from Hager's book were being used by "the Left" to derail the election result.
Labour leader David Cunliffe said it "defied belief" Key was not kept informed.
"It is now a matter of national importance to ensure our security intelligence services are not being misused for political ends."
IN THE LOOP
Prime Minister John Key says he was not briefed on the SIS documents but someone in his office was. There were four key staff in his office at that time who may have been in the loop.
Chief of Staff Wayne Eagleson. Key inherited Eagleson from former National leader Don Brash and the pair have forged a close relationship in government.
Sarah Boyle. A backroom operator who well knows the rules of parliamentary engagement. She is considered a guru of the Official Information Act.
Jason Ede. Ede is alleged in Hager's book to have briefed blogger Cameron Slater on the SIS document and OIA request. A former journalist, Ede was moved to the back office where his focus shifted to opening up lines of communication with social media.
Kevin Taylor. Key's chief press secretary at the time of the SIS release, he later moved to the backroom as a senior adviser.
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