Brown rumours 'rife within National camp'
KIRSTY JOHNSTON AND TRACY WATKINS
How has Len Brown handled the fallout from his affair?
The MP who tipped off Auckland Mayor Len Brown his affair was about to be made public was just gossiping at a cocktail party, Prime Minister John Key says.
Brown's supporters say they discovered he was about to be outed over his two-year affair with Bevan Chuang after an MP mentioned the rumours to one of them.
It is believed the MP is National MP for Rodney, Mark Mitchell.
Key said Auckland councillor Penny Webster telephoned him this morning to confess she had been gossipping with the MP.
"My understanding is that [he] ... didn't have the details but he was aware of some gossip at a function," Key said today.
"He had a discussion with Penny Webster. Penny Webster spoke to Len Brown."
The MP had "heard the rumours" and the pair were "exchanging discussion at a cocktail party," he added.
Key said he "wouldn't have any issue with it ... we've got nothing against Len."
Key refused to reveal who the MP was.
And he insisted the National Party wasn't involved in creating the scandal, which was broken on the right-wing Whaleoil blog.
"I don't believe the National Party has been involved at all. There may be people that knew about it who are members of the National Party or at least vague sort of details," he said.
Mitchell told Fairfax Media yesterday that he had heard rumours, and they had been widespread within the National Party for two years.
But Mitchell said he was not aware of the specifics about Chuang, and could not specifically remember telling a member of Brown's camp about the rumours as he "talked to people all the time".
A lot of people had heard the rumours.
"There was a lot of scuttlebutt about. But I don't think I was any more aware of it than anyone else. I certainly didn't know the specifics about Chuang."
Mitchell called Fairfax back today to clarify that the "scuttlebutt" was not neccessarily within the National Party, but was circulating more generally - at events and in passing remarks.
He said he had never talked to a member of Brown's "camp". He clarified that Webster was not a member of the Brown camp, but an independent Auckland councillor.
"I have never had any contact with anyone in Len Brown's campaign team and any comment I made to Penny, whom I have contact with in my role as MP for Rodney, was a very generic throwaway line about politicians and skeletons in the closet."
National has been trying to distance itself from the fallout over Brown's affair with 32-year-old Chuang - and suggestions the party's wider network was active in outing Brown.
Chuang became involved with the campaign of Brown's rival, John Palino, after the relationship ended. She has alleged both Palino, and campaign aide Luigi Wewege, knew about the relationship before it was made public on the Whaleoil blog.
Palino has denied any involvement in Brown being outed.
Wewege appears to be well known in National Party circles. One Auckland party insider said he was a member of Young Nats.
"As far as Luigi is concerned, a lot of these people join Young Nats because it means they can go to parties and meet other people," the insider said.
One Auckland MP confirmed yesterday Wewege was a regular sight on the National Party circuit.
But one veteran Nat suggested yesterday others involved in the campaign "weren't even on the fringes" of the National Party, and several party high-fliers spoken to yesterday said they had never heard of Palino before his mayoralty bid.
Palino had rung around activists in the party and asked them to help with his campaign "but they said no because they didn't regard him as someone who could win", an Auckland party source said.
Palino's campaign manager, John Slater, is the father of Cameron Slater, whose Whaleoil blog published the explosive revelations about Brown and Chuang.
Slater Sr has denied knowing anything about the expose in advance.
Slater Sr is a former National Party president with extensive links within the party and a pivotal member of the Right-leaning Communities and Residents ticket.
Pakuranga MP and minister Maurice Williamson is a close friend and is said to have been among those who received a threatening text from an anonymous source in the days before the Brown-Chuang affair was made public.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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