Disgraced former minister Stuart Nash has been accused of breaking the law by trying to cover up the email which ended his career.
National is targeting the prime minister's office, saying it was a cover-up. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says it was ultimately Nash's responsibility.
Nash was sacked from Cabinet after the email - sent to donors about Cabinet discussions - was uncovered by media.
The prime minister's office - under pressure after it was found that some staff knew about the email - has released a statement and timeline detailing the events surrounding the email.
The timeline shows two staff members - Deputy chief of staff Holly Donald and a senior advisor - were aware of the OIA request, and it was discussed on three occasions.
Nash emailed them in response to the OIA request, and included the email sent to donors in it. The email was not escalated by the staff members, or released at the time, as Nash claimed it was sent in his capacity as an MP - not as a minister.
Newsroom has reported it made the original official information request in June 2021, which was for "all written correspondence and details of the nature and substance of any other communication since the start of 2020" between Nash and 19 of his political donors.
Nash's office responded in August saying the Act related only to information "provided to me as minister". Newsroom reported the email did appear to be covered by the request, and withholding it was a breach of official information laws by Nash.
National deputy leader Nicola Willis also said it should have been included in the OIA response.
"How can this letter possibly have been out of scope?" she told reporters on Thursday afternoon. "The idea that this was out of scope when it was such a specific request, I think there's a huge amount of explaining for ministers to do."
She said it proved the prime minister's office was trying to cover up official information.
"Heads have to roll here. This is an unacceptable breach of the Official Information Act, the law of this country, and it is an unacceptable breach of long-standing ethics in our government.
"I think they saw that email and the alarm bells went off straight away 'if this finds itself into the public realm we are in serious trouble, but you know what we can hide it'."
She called for an urgent investigation by the ombudsman into a breach of the act, and for the prime minister's office to urgently release all information it held in relation to the request.
The prime minister's office said both the staff - who are still employed there - had apologised for their error of judgement in not recognising the significance of the email and escalating it at the time.
It said a complaint was laid with the ombudsman, but "ultimately dropped because the requester chose not to pursue it".
The timeline shows Nash drafted a response which was shared with the prime minister's office, but did not include the offending email.
However, the office said the final response to the ombudsman did include an unredacted version of the email.
"Two versions of the email were provided to the ombudsman; a fully redacted version and an unredacted version. For the avoidance of doubt, in the unredacted version you can see all text in the email. Therefore the ombudsman office could see the full email."
A statement from Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said it should have been raised with then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern at the time, but he had accepted the apology from the staff.
He said he believed the exclusion was an oversight by the prime minister's office.
"Staff in the Prime Minister's Office deal with large volumes of information every day and errors of judgement do occur. However, I've made my expectation clear and don't expect such an error to occur again."
He said regardless, the onus was on Nash to review his correspondence and identify the email himself.
"I asked him on two occasions to provide an assurance there were no further actions I should be aware of where he may have breached the Cabinet Manual. He had the responsibility to alert me to this email and did not," Hipkins said.
"I have already removed Stuart Nash from Cabinet and stripped him of his Ministerial portfolios, and asked the Cabinet Office to undertake a review of his correspondence with donors to check there are no other instances like this. I await the outcome of that review."
In the debating chamber on Thursday afternoon, Willis challenged the prime minister over why the email was not released.
Speaking on Hipkins' behalf, Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni also put the blame on Nash.
"Ministers ultimately are responsible for signing off Official Information Act requests," she said. "You can get advice from advisors but ultimately it is the minister's signature on that."
Nash remains as the MP for Napier, a Labour MP outside of Cabinet.
Parliament agreed to hold an urgent debate on Nash's dismissal after Question Time.
3 June: Cabinet Committee agrees to amend the Property Law Act to include an implied clause into leases, with criteria include businesses having 20 or fewer FTE per lease site. Also agreed to government support for arbitration.
4 June: PR from Minister Little announcing the Government will temporarily amend the Property Law Act to insert a clause in commercial leases requiring a fair reduction in rent, and $40m support for arbitration
5 June: Stuart Nash sends email to Greg Loveridge and Troy Bowker
30 June: Property Law Act changes do not proceed after NZ First withdraws support. $40 million in arbitration still proceeds.
8 June: Stuart Nash's office receives an OIA asking for all written correspondence between himself and a list of individuals. This is discussed with staff in the Prime Minister's Office on three occasions.
30 July: Stuart Nash's office emails the deputy Chief of Staff Holly Donald and a senior advisor with the emails found in relation to the request noting that in their view they were out of scope as they weren't received by Stuart Nash in his capacity as Minister. This includes the email of 5 June 2020. The Prime Minister's Office did not reply.
27 September: Cabinet agrees to a Bill amending the Property Law Act.
28 September: PR from Ministers Faafoi and Williams announcing changes to the Property Law Act to help those affected by Covid-19 restrictions.
2 November: The Covid-19 Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill received Royal Assent, This includes changes to the Property Law Act.
1 March: Stuart Nash receives a letter from the Ombudsman regarding an investigation into his response to the OIA.
17 March: Stuart Nash's office drafts a response to the Ombudsman and shares it with the Prime Minister's Office. This did not include a copy of the 5 June 2020 email but did include a reference to withholding documents under s9(2)(j). The Prime Minister's Office did not reply.
29 March: Stuart Nash replies to the Ombudsman including a redacted version of the 5 June 2020 email. Includes an explanation that the email was in his capacity as a Labour Member of Parliament rather than in his capacity as Minister.
30 March: Office of the Ombudsman responds to Nash's office, acknowledging receipt of his response.
25 May: Office of the Ombudsman emails Stuart Nash's office saying they would not be pursuing the complaint and the investigation was closed.