"Prime Minister Helen Clark has rejected calls to grill Winston Peters over donations to NZ First, saying he has assured her he has done nothing illegal.
Mr Peters flies back into the country this morning from Singapore - straight into a political storm - as he prepares to meet United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tonight..
The controversy over NZ First funding - which includes what happened to the $25,000 property magnate Sir Robert Jones has confirmed giving in 2005 - threatens to overshadow the biggest coup of Mr Peters' time as foreign affairs minister.
National leader John Key said Miss Clark had to get to the bottom of serious questions surrounding the funding before Mr Peters met Dr Rice.
NZ First insiders were last night planning for Mr Peters to answer media questions before his talks with Dr Rice - a sign Miss Clark wants the issue dampened down by then."
It would appear that by the time Peters faces the media, an alibi will have been constructed. But how plausible will it be? When confronted with the allegations on Sunday, Peters's response was vintage Winnie - ""That is a lie," Mr Peters said." However the Dom-Post this morning reveals that they have seen the receipt for $25,000, and Sir Bob Jones's company has a copy of the original cheque.
It is Clark's response (or the lack of it) that is telling however. The Dom-Post reports:
"But Miss Clark said she was not concerned about the latest reports. She had been assured that "he believes everything he has done is legal and he is coming back to New Zealand ... to clear the matter up"."
Of course he will Helen! But the question remains. Why is the PM cutting Winston Peters far more slack than she cut Dover Samuels, Taito Philip Field, David Benson-Pope or David Parker when various allegations first surfaced against each of them?