Prime Minister Bill English cannot recall whether or not Todd Barclay told him about illegally recording a former employee - but is still backing the Clutha-Southland MP.
English has also confirmed he spoke to police as part of their investigation into Barclay, but is refusing to release his statement to the public.
Despite English's comments, Barclay has continued to deny speaking to the Prime Minister about any taping.
A Newsroom investigation into Barclay has revealed a number of fresh allegations, including the use of then-Prime Minister John Key's leader's fund to help settle an employment case with Barclay's former electorate agent Glenys Dickson.
An un-redacted copy of a police investigation file also revealed text messages from English confirming he knew about the taping allegations.
Speaking to media before National’s caucus meeting, English said he could not remember who had first told him about the allegations of Barclay recording Dickson.
“I can’t recall exactly. I know the texts are there that show where I was relaying to the electorate chairman at the time what I’d heard, because I was asked what I’d heard, so I can’t tell you where it’s come from…
“It wasn’t like it was a court affidavit or anything - it was a number of conversations among people with whom I’d worked for a long time, knew well and so I can’t recall exactly what was said by whom, when.”
Asked whether it could have been Barclay who told him, English responded: “It’s possible.”
It was still unclear “just what might or might not have happened” in terms of any recording, English said - not ruling out that it had occurred.
While Dickson said in her police statement that English had phoned her to discuss Barclay’s confession to him, the Prime Minister said he could not recall speaking to her.
He confirmed he had spoken to police as part of their investigation, but said he would not waive his privacy rights and make his statement public.
English said the fallout in Clutha-Southland was disappointing, with “deep-seated personal differences” dividing those in his former electorate, but it was time to move on.
“They’ve done a good job of political representation as MPs or electorate staff or volunteers and at the time there was a kind of pressurised discussion in a set of circumstances that were already difficult, and I think you can see here these are people who’ve fallen out, it’s a shame, it’s disappointing.
“They’ve had an employment dispute, that’s been resolved, the police investigation, that’s been resolved, a re-selection of the candidate, that’s all been resolved and I would like to see the personalities resolved.”
Asked why the leader’s fund had been used to pay part of Dickson’s settlement, as revealed by Newsroom, English said he had been advised it “followed the normal course of employment disputes” with staff employed by the Parliamentary Service.
“Parliamentary Services are responsible for the employment disputes and it’s not a matter for the MP, he’s not the employer.”
Neither he nor former Prime Minister John Key had been involved in the settlement, and he was unaware of how much had been paid out.
Asked whether he had confidence in Barclay, he said: “Yes I do - he’s been re-selected by the National Party.”
Barclay, however, was much clearer on whether he had spoken to English about the subject, declaring he had not.
Barclay denies making recording
In a surprising move, Barclay decided to front media and said there was “nothing new” in the fresh story.
“I’ve seen the allegations that have been made by Mrs Dickson and the police have investigated quite thoroughly, obviously, I’ve gone through quite a robust local, transparent process too which was my re-selection which I won quite convincingly so my people and supporters down here clearly see it for what it is.”
He continued to deny he had made a recording, stating he had represented the situation honestly. He also said he had not told English of a recording.
He also refuted allegations he had bullied staff and did not know about the leader’s fund being used to settle the dispute.
“Employment disputes happen in all workplaces all the time and I don’t think there’s anything out of the ordinary about an employment settlement taking place after someone leaving a job.”
When asked why he had refused to talk to police, Barclay said he had sought legal advice and had been advised he did not need to.
When questioned at the airport on Monday night by Newsroom, Barclay said he had been "open" with police about the issue.
He said Dickson had possibly broken the confidentiality agreement in talking to media, but he had no intention of doing so and he hoped he retained the confidence of English.
“I certainly hope so, I’ve certainly got confidence in my electorate, I’ve been reselected again quite convincingly in the last year and bearing in mind all of these issues that are out there at the moment were out there during reselection as well.
Labour says looks like a cover-up
Labour also came out swinging on the issue, with leader Andrew Little saying it appeared the police investigation had been stonewalled and obstructed.
English needed to front up and explain what happened.
"I think what is concerning is that senior members of the National Party in Parliament, and including Bill English, seem to have been part of what looks like a cover-up to protect him and keep the pressure off," Little said.
"And if there is an allegation of an arguably unlawful recording then I would expect an MP facing that allegation to front up, not to run away from it in the way that I think it looks like Todd Barclay has," he said.