The Jami-Lee Ross and expenses leak mega-scandal: A timeline

Everything that's happened so far, from the day Simon Bridges' expenses were leaked to the week from hell for the National Party.

The leaks begin
 

August 13 - Newshub reveals Simon Bridges' expenses a few days before they were due to be made public. The documents show Mr Bridges spent more than $113,000 on travel and accommodation in just three months, while on a country-wide roadshow.

Mr Bridges is unrepentant, saying he is "working incredibly hard as Opposition Leader to get out there and understand what's happening in New Zealand".

August 14 - Simon Bridges says he's confident the source of the leak isn't anyone in the National Party. He calls for an independent review. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says no one in Labour would have had access to the documents, and leaking them would be "totally inappropriate".

Speaker Trevor Mallard.
Speaker Trevor Mallard. Photo credit: Newshub.

August 15 - Speaker Trevor Mallard announces an investigation into the source of the leak. He says it could only have come from the Speaker's office, parliamentary staffers or the National Party caucus.

"In my opinion someone has deliberately undermined either an individual or the system and I want us, if at all possible, to get to the bottom of it."

Jami-Lee Ross denies being the source of the leak for the first time, and said he has "absolute confidence" in leader Simon Bridges.

Judith Collins calls the expenses leak a "pathetic attack".

Mr Bridges asks his MPs to sign a waiver allowing their computers to be forensically examined. 

Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien, who received the original leak, says it was a waste of money to investigate since the information would be out soon anyway.

August 16 - MPs' expenses are formally released. They confirm Simon Bridges' spending was nearly three times higher than the next MP, National's Hamish Walker. The documents exclude spending by ministers.

Mr Bridges, Speaker Trevor Mallard and Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien receive a text message from the leaker asking for the inquiry to be called off as they're suffering from a "prolonged mental illness". The sender also claims to be a member of the National Party caucus. None of this is reported until a week later.

Cameron Slater.
Cameron Slater. Photo credit: Getty

August 18 - Right-wing blogger Cameron Slater says there is "back channel chatter" the leaker is a member of the National Party caucus. He doesn't name names.

August 20 - Simon Bridges claims the leak came from "a Government that has been trying to distract", and again denied suggestions it could be one of his own MPs.

August 24 - Speaker Trevor Mallard calls off the inquiry, saying it's a matter for the National Party alone. The text message sent the week prior is publicly revealed. 

Simon Bridges disagrees with the Speaker's decision, calling for the investigation to continue.

It's reported the police know who the leaker is, but won't tell.

August 25 - National MP Gerry Brownlee expresses anger that the Speaker pointed the finger at National, saying the inquiry needed to continue so the party's 56 MPs could clear their names.

August 26 - Simon Bridges says Speaker Trevor Mallard will be to blame if the leaker isn't found.

August 27 - Simon Bridges calls on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Speaker Trevor Mallard to tell him everything they know about the source of the leak, still believing it could be someone other than a National Party member or MP.

The investigation gets underway
 

August 28 - National begins its own internal investigation into who leaked the expenses, even though Simon Bridges remains sceptical.

September 3 - NZME reports there are two or three MPs that haven't signed a waiver allowing investigators to check their work computers and cellphones. It's not clear which MPs they are. Gerry Brownlee, overseeing the inquiry with Paula Bennett, says the results might not even be made public over concerns for the leaker's mental health.

Meanwhile, Simon Bridges launches another roadshow of the country.

September 4 - All of National's MPs have now signed the waiver.

Simon Bridges.
Simon Bridges. Photo credit: The AM Show

Simon Bridges attacks the Government over Clare Curran's demotion, calling it "incompetent" and "shambolic".

September 5 - National MPs hand over communications they've had dating back to February, when Simon Bridges became leader.

September 11 - Simon Bridges tells the Woman's Weekly the leak inquiry isn't the biggest challenge he's faced in politics - it's "juggling family and politics".

September 15 - Simon Bridges says if it turns out an MP leaked his expenses, he wouldn't necessarily sack them.

"Let's go through the process and see," he told Newshub Nation. "But we also know there are some other issues at play here, potentially in terms of wellbeing and so on, so we'll just have to, look, actually exercise some clear, effective leadership on that."

He said he'd be "incredibly disappointed" if it turned out to be a National MP or staffer, but it wasn't "worth getting too hung-up on".

Jami-Lee Ross.
Jami-Lee Ross. Photo credit: Newshub.

Speculation on Jami-Lee Ross
 

September 19 - Winston Peters tells Parliament everyone there already knows who the leaker is, while looking at Jami-Lee Ross' vacant seat.

"The New Zealand taxpayers paying for this absolutely mindless, hopeless inquiry, the end pathway and result of which we already know. So why don't we just cut to the chase here? Pay the money over to us, and we'll give you the answer. Ha, ha! It is phenomenal." 

He said if Simon Bridges doesn't tell the public who the leaker is, he will. Blogger Cameron Slater says MPs and "well-informed" journalists know who the leaker is, as they're being "shunned by caucus".

September 26 - Simon Bridges says his party doesn't support the waka-jumping legislation, which would allow parties to banish errant MPs from Parliament altogether, rather than just from the party.

September 27 - Simon Bridges says heaven is "shining" on the National Party, enjoying the various scandals the Government is facing.

September 30 - Winston Peters uses his platform at NZ First's 25th anniversary celebrations to say Simon Bridges will be rolled as National Party leader before the 2020 election.

Simon Bridges and the National Party caucus.
Simon Bridges and the National Party caucus. Photo credit: Paula Bennett/Facebook

Jami-Lee Ross goes on leave
 

October 2 - Simon Bridges announces Jami-Lee Ross will be stepping down from the National Party front bench and taking leave from Parliament to deal with some personal health issues.

"There are times in life where you have to put your own health and family first," Mr Ross said in a statement. "As a husband and a father I need to do that at this time."

Mr Bridges says it has nothing to do with the expenses inquiry. NZME political journalist Audrey Young says it's "cruel" timing if Mr Bridges is telling the truth, because it will leave people wondering if he is.

Mr Bridges, in perhaps the first hint he and Mr Ross had fallen out, described Mr Ross' problems as "embarrassing".

October 3 - National MPs line up to support Jami-Lee Ross.

Nikki Kaye - who took leave in 2016 to fight breast cancer - said he was "obviously going through something and we just need to be really sensitive to that".

Simon Bridges apologises for calling Mr Ross' problems "embarrassing", after widespread criticism.

October 4 - Jami-Lee Ross is reportedly "pissed off" with Simon Bridges for calling his problems "embarrassing".

An AM Show poll found 61 percent of viewers and listeners rate Mr Bridges' performance as leader 'poor'. Only 16 percent say it's 'good' or 'great'.

Simon Bridges and Chris Trotter.
Simon Bridges and Chris Trotter. Photo credit: Getty/The AM Show

Left-wing political commentator Chris Trotter says Mr Bridges has the "smell of death" around him, as there are conflicting reports about whether the National Party has widened its inquiry to include non-parliamentary staff.

Looking to lighten the mood for a moment, Mr Bridges appears on Jono and Ben.

The National Party inquiry receives the "final set of relevant information from Parliamentary Services", according to deputy leader Paula Bennett.

October 5 - Judith Collins defends Simon Bridges' use of the word "embarrassing" to describe Jami-Lee Ross' problems.

"Simon's got a lot more information on this than me, and I back him on this," she told The AM Show. "I'm not going to go and second-guess people. It's very easy to second-guess, but I don't have that information and I'm absolutely backing him."

Mr Bridges continues to claim Mr Ross' leave has nothing to do with the leak inquiry.

October 8 - Simon Bridges says he's no longer going to talk about his conversations with Jami-Lee Ross, apologising for calling his health problems "embarrassing".

"I'm drawing a line under this. I'm not talking about them."

He said he's not focused on the leak investigation, and said if Speaker Trevor Mallard hadn't called off his inquiry and pointed the finger at National, there would never have been an internal probe.

October 10 - It's revealed Speaker Trevor Mallard did conduct an inquiry into the leak, focusing on his own office. It came up empty.

Duncan Garner shows Simon Bridges more leaked documents.
Duncan Garner shows Simon Bridges more leaked documents. Photo credit: The AM Show

The week from hell
 

October 15 - One of the most intense weeks in New Zealand political history begins with The AM Show's Duncan Garner confronting Simon Bridges with a fresh set of leaks.

They claim internal polling has Mr Bridges at negative 25 percent favourability, and show two donations - one from a group called 'Cathedral Club' and the other from a company with Exclusive Brethren links - were removed from his candidate returns, apparently transferred to the party's returns.

Mr Bridges says they were mistakenly added to his return, and the amendments were made on the advice of the Electoral Commission.

He again says he didn't know who was behind the leaks, telling Garner: "If you can tell me, I can answer."

Later that day, right before Mr Bridges was due to reveal the inquiry's findings, Mr Ross launches a pre-emptive attack on Twitter. He said he and the National leader had a falling out, denied being the leaker and accused Mr Bridges of breaking the law.

Mr Bridges minutes later says the inquiry had found Mr Ross was the likely leaker.

Jami-Lee Ross talks to media for an hour.
Jami-Lee Ross talks to media for an hour. Photo credit: Newshub.

October 16 - Jami-Lee Ross is unanimously voted out of the National Party, becoming an independent MP. At the same time, Mr Ross holds an epic hour-long press conference, detailing Mr Bridges' alleged wrongdoing - and claiming he has recordings and text messages to prove it.

He also claims Mr Bridges and Paula Bennett confronted him with allegations from four women that he had behaved inappropriately, but denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Ross says he'll resign his seat on Friday, October 19.

Mr Bridges categorically denies Mr Ross' allegations, which legal experts say if true, could see him behind bars.

Zhang Yikun and Simon Bridges.
Zhang Yikun and Simon Bridges. Photo credit: Jami-Lee Ross/Twitter

Mr Ross tweets photographs of Mr Bridges with Zhang Yikun, whom he alleges donated $100,000 to the party - split into smaller pieces to avoid detection, according to Mr Ross.

Mr Bridges refuses to comment on whether he did solicit or accept a donation from Mr Zhang.

October 17 - Paula Bennett says there have been no official complaints about Jami-Lee Ross from any female MPs.

"At no point was the matter of sexual harassment ever put to Jami-Lee Ross," Bennett told NZME. "What was put to him was inappropriate behaviour that is unacceptable from a married Member of Parliament."

Ms Bennett confirms Simon Bridges had met with Zhang Yikun, but is uncertain about what was discussed or if any donation was made at all.

She denied knowing what the Cathedral Club is. Auckland investor Aaron Bhatnagar comes forward, saying he's happy to be known as the man behind the club, which donated $10,000 to the National Party - not Mr Bridges.

He says it didn't matter which name he used, since it fell below the declaration threshold for donating to a party - $15,000.

Mr Ross files a complaint with police, and releases a recording of a conversation he had with Mr Bridges, in which they discuss the $100,000 donation.

But it also contains discussion of whether it's better to have two Indian or two Chinese candidates, as well as disparaging comments about other National MPs.

Maureen Pugh/Facebook
Maureen Pugh. Photo credit: Maureen Pugh/Facebook

Mr Bridges apologises for calling MP Maureen Pugh "f**king useless", but refuses to say sorry to the Indian community for his comments. He calls Mr Ross a "liar" and a "terrible person".

Ms Pugh forgives Mr Bridges, accepting his apology.

Former Newshub political editor Patrick Gower says Mr Bridges is "finished" as leader.

October 18 - Newsroom publishes an explosive article detailing four women's complaints against Jami-Lee Ross. They accuse him of being a narcissist who used "brutal sex" to "dig dirt" on others. Mr Ross later says he's assessing his legal options, but doesn't comment further on the claims.

Newsroom writer Melanie Reid tells The AM Show she knows of at least five more women with stories to tell about Mr Ross.

Other MPs Simon Bridges slagged off in the leaked recording take it in their stride. Chris Finlayson says he's planning to leave Parliament anyway, and David Carter says he's angrier at Mr Ross than Mr Bridges.

Maureen Pugh's mum comes to her defence, calling Mr Bridges a "dumb-arse" and telling him to "go suck eggs".

Peter Goodfellow.
Peter Goodfellow. Photo credit: Newshub.

National-aligned blogger David Farrar tells The AM Show the scandal is more like something out of Australian politics, than New Zealand.

In the afternoon, Mr Ross releases text messages between himself and National Party general manager Greg Hamilton. He says it proves the National Party knew the donation was legally dubious. National says it received eight donations, which Mr Ross declared, and all of it is above board.

That evening, RNZ reports National Party president Peter Goodfellow signed a confidentiality agreement with a woman after she complained about Mr Ross' behaviour - and it's believed this happened as much as two years ago. Then a National Party candidate and Howick Local Board member alleges she was bullied by Mr Ross. She says the party bosses know all about it, but Mr Bridges and Paula Bennett don't.

Jami-Lee Ross and Judith Collins.
Jami-Lee Ross and Judith Collins. Photo credit: Getty/The AM Show

October 19 - Judith Collins says National MPs didn't know much about Jami-Lee Ross' alleged behaviour.

"I don't think anybody knew the full extent of all this," she told The AM Show.

"And I think lots of people this week have been saying, 'Oh my goodness,' and words to that effect, and a few other words, as more and more revelations have come out.

"I think too everyone's busy at work. They're just getting on doing their things, and they're rushing from one meeting to the other and select committees and the House, and no one's really sitting around saying, 'Let's all put everyone's stories together.'"

The High Commissioner of India criticises Mr Ross and Simon Bridges' comments in the leaked recording, saying he is "deeply disappointed and very hurt".

That evening, Mr Ross confirmed to Newstalk ZB he had two "consensual" affairs - one with an unnamed MP. He also reversed his previous intention to resign, now saying he'll stay on as an MP. The station also aired a recording of Mr Bridges and Mr Ross discussing alleged misconduct against multiple women.

October 20 - David Hollings, chair of the Howick Local Board, told Newshub Nation Jami-Lee Ross rang local body politicians and threatened to end their political careers in a "Darth Vader voice". He said he went to Newsroom's Melanie Reid because she was the one who broke the Todd Barclay story.

"I said, 'Look, this guy - we've got a guy in our area that makes Todd Barclay look like an angel.' But we knew nothing of this."

David Hollings calls 'BS' on Jami-Lee Ross.
David Hollings calls 'BS' on Jami-Lee Ross. Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

Former National Party general manager Chris Simpson told Newshub Nation he believed Simon Bridges would have followed the law, and the leaked texts back that up

There is speculation National may invoke the waka-jumping law it has vowed to overturn, in order to get rid of Mr Ross. If they do, they risk looking like hypocrites, says political commentator Dr Bryce Edwards. 

Newshub.

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