National Leader Simon Bridges and National MP Jami-Lee Ross are at heads following new evidence by Pricewaterhouse Coopers Consulting Group that suggests Ross leaked his leader's expenses and was the sender of the anonymous text messages in August.
Bridges is standing by the report’s findings and the opinion of John Billington QC who independently assessed the report.
Bridges says “It is his opinion that on the balance of probabilities the evidence establishes that Jami-Lee Ross was the person who leaked the expenses and the sender of the text message.”
"Earlier today I visited Jami-Lee Ross with Paula Bennett and explained to him the report and the opinion of Mr Billington and gave him an opportunity to respond. I was not satisfied with his explanation."
In the report’s summary of findings it states:
"42. Based upon the procedures undertaken as detailed in this letter, the summary of our findings is as follows:
a) we have not identified the leaker of the Expense Documents of the Sender of the Text Message with certainty; and
b) the evidence we have identified points to Mr Ross.
43. Mr Ross may therefore be the text message sender.”
The report revealed a number of phone calls Mr Ross made post-leak to a Radio NZ reporter, the Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard and the Police.
Te Kāea contacted Mr Ross's office for comment but a spokesperson from National's office said "Sorry I can't help with this."
However, an hour before Mr Bridges' announcement on Monday Mr Ross took to Twitter to pre-warn followers that Mr Bridges was going to attempt to “pin his leak inquiry on me."
“He cannot find who the actual leak is,” says Mr Ross “so is attempting to use contact with my local Police area commander, and a journalist this is a friend (not Tova), as evidence that I am somehow involved.”
In another tweet, Mr Ross says they are unrelated but his leader did not wish to believe it.
He says “Some months ago I fell out with Simon. I have internally been questioning leadership decisions he was making, and his personal poll ratings which show he is becoming more and more unlikable in the public’s eyes.”
When questioned on the leak inquiry on Monday, NZ First leader Winston Peters said he couldn’t comment. Instead quoted 17th century French Military leader Napolean Bonaparte, “Never interfere with an enemy who is in the process of destroying himself.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also remained tight-lipped on the issue. “This is an issue for the National Party and it’s an issue that they need to manage. I’m going to get on with running and leading the Government.”
But tensions between the two Māori MPs of the National Caucus are only heating up with Mr Ross attempting to out his leader on new allegations. Mr Ross also revealed on Twitter that he confronted his leader with evidence of the pair discussing “unlawful activity”.
“When I started to become expendable, I confronted him with evidence that I had recorded him discussing with me unlawful activity that he was involved in. Working on his instruction, he asked me to things with elections donations that broke the law.”
He says it was this evidence that led his leader to push him out on medical leave last month.
Mr Bridges is denying the allegations.
“I am not aware of that and certainly I reject any allegation of the sort in terms of unlawful activity it's simply not true," says Mr Bridges. "As I say, this is not a surprise given where we are. The report here speaks for itself."
But Mr Ross says he will be speaking publicly on the matter in the coming days.