Thursday, March 31, 2016

Michal Schwartz, who pioneered the field of neuroimmunology, makes new links between immune-system health and Alzheimer's

Scientist Michal Schwartz, a professor of neuroimmunology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is a medical maverick; her research pioneered the field of neuroimmunology, establishing the vital role played by the immune system in brain health and repair. Her new book, Neuroimmunity: A New Science That Will Revolutionize How We Keep our Brains Healthy and Young (with Anat London), explains how a "healthy mind depends on a healthy immune system" and how her team's research could help improve treatment for Alzheimer's, dementia, spinal cord injuries, depression and glaucoma.

Q: In Neuroimmunity, you write that our immune systems determine who we are. What do you mean?

A: We think of who we are in terms of personality, past experience, genetics and environmental factors, all of which determine whether we are intelligent, if we are happy, if we are sad. But our immune system is the key factor that keeps the brain in shape, that helps the brain recover from trauma and returns it to homeostasis.

Q: For decades you single-handedly challenged dogma that the immune system is distinct from the central nervous system [the brain, spinal cord and neural retina]. The brain was believed to be "immune-privileged"--the only organ not aided by the immune system. What led you to travel a contrarian path?

A: It's simple and complicated. My background is basic science--chemistry, physics, mathematics. Then I did my Ph.D. in immunology. My post-doctoral work was in neurosciences; I was working on nerve regeneration. We know every tissue of the body can repair itself with the assistance of the immune system. It didn't make sense to me that the brain, the one tissue that is indispensable, non-redundant and so fragile, had lost the ability to benefit from immune-system repair.

Q: Until fairly recently, your work made you subject to criticism, even attack. Why was there such resistance?

A: It's not unique to me. Scientists go by dogma, and this was completely outside of the dogma that the barrier system should protect the brain from the entry of the immune cell. The community was so convinced that no immune cells were allowed to enter the brain that whenever they sought information under any brain pathology--it was very clear to assume, "Okay, immune cells enter the brain, we should remove them."

Q: So autoimmune cells in the brain were seen to indicate a problem, not a solution?

A: Right. But resistance to my work also stemmed from the fact that it ran between two established disciplines: immunologists ignored it because they don't deal with the brain, and neuroscientists don't understand immunology.

Q: That led you to create the new field of neuroimmunology.

A: Yes. It's around 25 years old. In the beginning it was dominated by immunologists working on multiple sclerosis. No neuroscientists were in the field. I tried to push it in the other direction, and that's happening.

Q: How do the brain and the immune system communicate with each other?

A: They don't speak like other tissues in which blood cells are at the site of pathology. It's more like remote control. The construct between brain and immune system is through the barrier system--the brain has evolved its own pathways.

Q: In the past year, researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of Helsinki independently made headlines with their discoveries that the brain had a previously undetected "lymphatic" system. How does this fit with your model?

A: It fits very well; the brain is not isolated from circulation. But research into the lymphatic system has been around for several years. We observed similar results but did not pursue it. Jonathan Kipnis [who led the University of Virginia team] was a Ph.D. student in our program. He did very elegant work.

Q: What were breakthrough moments in your research?

A: I've had several. In 1998, we found that if you add more macrophages [white blood cells in the immune system formed in response to infection, accumulating damage or dead cells] to an injured spinal cord, the animal walks. The community almost killed me for that. It's easy to say now that there is a lymphatic system, but can you imagine saying for the first time macrophages are needed for repair?

Q: The next year you established the "theory of protective autoimmunity," a revolutionary concept.

A: Yes. In 1999, we observed that autoimmune lymphocytes [white blood cells] can have a beneficial role in repair after a serious injury to the central nervous system. Another breakthrough I loved was in 2006: we found neurogenesis and cognition are dependent on T cells. You take young animals and you deprive them of T cells and they are idiots.

Q: Your research indicates the immune system needs to be boosted, not suppressed. Doesn't that run contrary to the immunosuppressant therapies routinely prescribed for many autoimmune diseases?

A: I've told everyone for a while to be careful when prescribing any anti-inflammatory drug for any neurodegenerative disease. They understand, but don't have an alternative.

Q: You recently co-authored a paper in Nature that found a cancer drug showed huge promise for Alzheimer's.

A: Immunotherapy in cancer is more accepted and is going to be the prevailing treatment. I wrote a theoretical argument in 2008 comparing Alzheimer's to cancer. I said we need immunity in the brain to fight the pathology. We found the choroid plexus is one of the interfaces where the immune system can talk to the brain, and that this is critical to help repair. Three years ago, a paper in published in Science showed this interface doesn't work properly in aging. We went to check Alzheimer's and found the communication between brain and immune system is completely shut off due to deficiency in cytokine, which is needed for activity of this interface. That led me to think that in Alzheimer's, the brain escapes from immune help more than normal. Our research showed that if we reduced immune suppression, we activated the gateway to recovery from Alzheimer's. The Nature paper shows that the best drug in the market for cancer, the immune checkpoint PD1, is extremely effective in Alzheimer's. This is a breakthrough.

Q: In your book, you outline how brain aging is less a function of chronological age than immunological age. How can we stay immunologically young?

A: [Laughs] I wish I had done this. To sleep well, to rest, to eat well, to exercise, to meditate, to train your brain, to maintain social contacts and to try to avoid stressful conditions. This is preventative.

Q: Yet too much exercise is dangerous?

A: Yes, because you can enter into a stressful condition that elevates cortisol steroids--that suppresses the immune system.

Q: You also write of how "immune cells of wisdom" can mimic the effects of Prozac.

A: These are autoimmune T cells that recognize and respond to brain antigens. If you boost the level of autoimmune T cells, you can increase neurogenesis [the growth and development of nervous tissue]. It's similar to Prozac. Psychologists suggest people run and do exercise to achieve a similar effect. Our ability to benefit from sports is not that it affects the brain directly; it affects the immune system, which affects the brain.

Q: Your book discusses how protective parents who shield children from everyday difficulties can impede development of their immune systems, leading to "mentally fragile" kids.

A: Exposing children to limited stress builds the immune system; it's like exposing kids to bacteria so they become immune.

Q: Your research also indicates that the immune system is "gendered"--different in men and women.

A: Before menopause, progesterone and estrogen affect women's immune systems; inductive immunity in females is more active, which is why the prevalence of autoimmune disease is higher in females between 20 and 40 than in males. Testosterone can be inhibitory to the immune system; estrogen is stimulative.

Q: Is there still resistance to your work in the medical mainstream?

A: Mostly not. Papers of mine that were once ignored are now being cited thousands of times. That said, neuroimmunology is still not a big field.

Q: Why did you write a book for a mass audience?

A: I was invited to give a lecture in Jerusalem with psychologists, clinicians and historians to speak about memory from different angles. I explained the correlation between cognitive memory and immunological memory. Someone in the audience asked me if there was anything intelligent lay people could read on the subject. I said, "No." And that was the beginning.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spinning its wheels

Instead of being the saviour to the long morning commute, a new study says driverless vehicles could actually lead to more traffic congestion. More people would travel by car instead of using the train or bus, for example, and the extra traffic could potentially eliminate any environmental benefits from autonomous driving. The technology evidently still needs tinkering too, as Google accepted "some responsibility" for a collision one of its self-driving cars had with a bus last month. No injuries were reported, but Google will meet with California's Department of Motor Vehicles to discuss what went wrong in the accident. Regardless, drivers still have plenty of reasons to lean on the horn.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The revenge of Mike Duffy

Criminal charges facing the senator from P.E.I. may be beside the point. In attending court for the entire trial, Maclean's learned a surprising, dark truth about R. v. Duffy.
It is hard to fathom that Sen. Mike Duffy's aim during his 62-day trial, apart from defeating the manifold bribery, breach of trust and fraud charges laid against him by the RCMP, was anything other than to topple the man he took to be his true adversary in the courtroom--Stephen Harper, who throughout most of these proceedings remained prime minister.
Here was a topsy-turvy turn of events. Once, Michael Dennis Duffy had been the genie of Cavendish, P.E.I., the Conservative Party of Canada's in-house raconteur, itinerant fundraiser, flag-bearer, circus performer. An upstart from the regions who'd made good in Ottawa, he had returned home to rain federal-government largesse like manna on his boyhood province.
Now here he was, confined, day after day, to courtroom 33 in the downtown Ottawa courthouse--embattled, all but undone, alone save for his wife, Heather, a handful of stalwart pals and his lawyer, the formidable Donald Bayne. On the docket, they called it R. v. Duffy. Really the Ol' Duff was at war with the centralizing powerhouse of Harper and his "kids in short pants" at the Prime Minister's Office.
Perhaps no Ottawa clique has valued secrecy and control as dearly as Harper's office, and no keyhole is more revealing of that gang's capacity for scheming than the trial of Mike Duffy. If Duffy himself is hardly a sympathetic figure, neither were the PMO staffers who testified as witnesses for the Crown. Four months after Justin Trudeau's Liberals swept the Tories from power promising "sunny ways," the Duffy matter remains the best case study of how dark things can get.
"I wasn't hired because I was teeth and hair," Duffy told the court in December, making reference to the more superficial attributes associated with on-air TV personalities, of which he has few. "I was hired because I work long and hard, and broke stories. And that is the formula for my success in life. Do what the boss wants, work harder than everybody else. That's been my mantra throughout. Because nothing I've done has come to me easily."
His most recent boss had been Stephen Harper. Duffy had worked for him, hard, and Harper had cast him to the wolves--cast him out at the first opportunity.
When his trial got underway last April, Duffy sat behind his lawyer, his head hung low. Then Bayne, with his white hair and a build that still, though he was in his late 60s, recalled his days as a quarterback at Queen's University, stood and described how wretched Duffy's position became at the height of the crisis in 2013--ejected from the Tory caucus, suspended from the Senate, just for going about his parliamentary business.
Bayne told of how Nigel Wright, Harper's former chief of staff, made a scapegoat of Duffy, and by that unwholesome method attempted to end the "public agony," the "Chinese water torture," of scandal.
Complete with theatrical, suspense-laden ums and ahs, Bayne read from Wright's RCMP interview: "I was aware of the fact that I was pushing very hard to have a caucus member repay a significant amount of money to which he may have been legally entitled." See there? His client was innocent, Bayne said, and yet here he was, disgraced, his life a shambles.
And so it may have remained. But last Aug. 2, earlier than anticipated, Harper called a federal election. Canadians who believe the 2015 election was won and lost on the niqab, or Syrian refugees, or just sheer voter fatigue, forget that things began to fall apart with Duffy, and broke down completely in this courtroom. Here was Duffy's chance: the trial would give him a shot at getting his own back.
This is the story of how he did exactly that. Maclean's was there, every single day of the trial, watching him do it. Whatever presiding Justice Charles Vaillancourt's verdict in late April--guilty, not guilty, on all or some of the 31 charges--this is the story of how an unyielding Sammy Glick, a man who saw himself as persecuted, shunned, driven out, got his revenge.
It probably did not help Duffy's cause that he made his way to court each morning from 47 Morenz Ter., in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata. Upon his appointment as a senator for P.E.I., Duffy immediately began claiming living expenses he incurred for living at that address, though he'd resided there with his wife Heather since 2003--he claimed more than $80,000 over the course of four years. Why not? As one Senate official put it at trial, the rules of the red chamber are so elastic "one could get the feeling you could be a resident of a place you've never been."
Duffy would arrive at the courthouse amid an electrical storm of artificial lights, the boom microphones rising in unison. Once through the glass doors, safely beyond the reach of the cameras, Duffy, who favoured good suits cut to his odd frame, trudged the halls toward the courthouse's Tim Hortons concession. There he stood in line with lawyers, clerks and men with neck tattoos. It was a slow line, much remarked on by regulars.
In court he adopted a blank expression, likely due to the proximity of former colleagues in the press. Duffy had left one club--the tight-knit family that is the parliamentary press gallery--for the Harper fold. Now he belonged nowhere; he'd reportedly mortgaged his home, presumably to help defray the costs of this ordeal.
Immediately ahead of the courtroom benches reserved for media sat Sgt. Greg Horton, lead RCMP investigator in the Duffy case, as well as the cases of Sen. Patrick Brazeau, appointed as a Tory, and former Liberal Sen. Mac Harb (but Horton is not the investigator in the case of Sen. Pamela Wallin, also once a Tory, who is under investigation but has not been charged).
Reporters first became aware of Horton through his bulldog Carmen. The animal featured in images on his laptop, open on his desk in full view of the press. Carmen appeared dressed in hunting attire and apparently drinking beer. Mild-mannered and well-dressed, his hair kept cropped close at the sides, Horton was a voracious news reader and had approached his boss about looking into the Senate after spotting stories about it in the paper.
His probe, dubbed Project Amble, took Horton more than a year. Over that time, Horton and a colleague took to sitting in the Bridgehead coffee shop behind the Langevin Block, where the Prime Minister has his office, and made bets on which passersby worked in the PMO based on how eccentrically they dressed. Horton had noticed the kids in short pants were into offbeat fashion.
The Crowns sat just in front of Horton. If Mark Holmes, the lead prosecutor, had the irascible bearing of a high school vice-principal, then his co-counsel, Jason Neubauer, exhibited a penchant for hanging back behind a killer point, like Billie Holiday's voice behind the beat.
This was Neubauer's method in dealing with Mike Croskery, whom Duffy hired as a personal trainer while still a CTV broadcaster, then tapped as a consultant on Senate work. The allegation here was that Duffy paid Croskery out of Senate money he funnelled through two of his old friend Gerald Donohue's private companies, skirting Senate oversight.
"What did he say to you in that initial conversation about the consulting?" Neubauer, an economically built, quiet man, asked Croskery. (Like other portions of testimony contained in this story, this exchange has been condensed and edited from recordings.)
"Um," said Croskery. "I believe he said, 'Well, let's do this as consulting.' "
"Let's do what as consulting?"
"Um, I would assume that, as we meet, um, we're going to be consulting on this project. Was my take on the matter."
"As you meet to do what?" Neubauer had permitted a slight edge to creep into his voice.
"Ah. As we meet. Um. For the exercise, I guess."
"Did he describe the nature of the consulting he was proposing?"
"Yeah, yeah, he did. He sort of, um, he'd describe it as this--he wants to do a--I guess-as I understand it--I guess--there's projects that senators would work on. And this was one of the projects that he wanted to work on--was getting information to older adults on health and fitness."
Croskery cleared his throat.
Neubauer continued. "So, can you help us with how he described this project?"
"I don't really recall what he exactly said. Um. But that was what I interpreted it as-um--what he was doing."
"And you said earlier that--I can't recall your exact words, but--the majority of these sessions took place during workout sessions?" "The majority of the consulting sessions? Yeah, it was combined."
"It was combined. There were some times when we just sat and talked, but. Because he knew the exercise routine. Um. And it wasn't like he was really out of breath."
"So you're citing research to the senator--"
"--as he's exercising?"
"That's correct."
"And so--um--was he writing down what you were saying as he was exercising?"
"He didn't write most of it down. Occasionally there were times where we'd stop, type something down onto his computer. I don't know what was typed on the computer, but he didn't--he didn't have a notepad there, taking notes or anything like that."
"And did you arrive with notes?"
"Ah, no," Croskery said. "No."
Croskery's face had gone very red. "Did you get any sense from the senator as to how the project was progressing over the years?"
"No," Croskery said.
Croskery received approximately $10,000 in consulting fees over three years. How did the pair come up with this payment scheme? "From what I remember," Croskery said, "he came up with the numbers."
"Was that okay with you?" Neubauer asked him.
"That was fine by me."
Sitting in his corner of the courtroom, Duffy steadied himself against the indignity of this testimony as though against a brisk wind. Propped up next to him was a large-format photograph featuring Duffy and Stephen Harper that had been filed as an exhibit, then forgotten there. "To Duff," read a handwritten note Harper had scrawled across it. "A great journalist and a great senator. Thanks for being one of my best, hardest-working appointments ever!"
At the end of each day, Heather Duffy went to collect the maroon Hyundai Santa Fe with a P.E.I. licence plate affixed to the back. Duffy hung back inside until she drove up. One summer day he miscalculated and walked to the curb too soon. Surrounded by cameras, he calmly dialed Heather.
"I'm standing out here with my friends," he told her.
These used to be his people.
Often among them was Robert Fife, then Ottawa bureau chief for CTV News (he is now at the Globe and Mail). Duffy mentored Fife after he left newspaper reporting for TV in 2005. In testimony, Duffy identified Fife as his "good friend," and as someone he went to for advice when Stephen Harper offered him a Senate seat.
"Go for it," Duffy said Fife told him.
On May 14, 2013, Fife reported that Nigel Wright gave Duffy "cash for the repayment" of his dubious living expense claims. That transaction, which amounted to more than $90,000, later formed the basis for the three bribery-related charges laid against him. It was the end of their 30-year friendship: Fife and Duffy have not spoken since.
Former colleagues describe Duffy as a ferociously thin-skinned man who knew everybody but had few friends. Status motivated him. One former journalist and drinking buddy testified he remembered when reporters called Duffy "the Senator," even when he wasn't one. Duffy's history, as told in the witness box-by a cousin, friends, Duffy himself--spoke of a relentless ambition to succeed.
His grandfather had been a Liberal and served as speaker in P.E.I.'s provincial Legislative Assembly. The youthful Duffy had different leanings. A lacklustre student, he focused on the pop-music column he wrote for the Guardian--"Platter Chatter," it was called--and hosted a Hairspray-style dance program called Club 62, on CFCY, the local TV station.
He dropped out of high school after Grade 10 and sought radio work, landing at CJCH in Halifax. Deemed unready for that job, he was let go and had to hitchhike out of town. Yet Duffy was a hustler, a kid on the make. Setbacks proved his fuel.
He arrived in Ottawa as a CHUM radio reporter in 1971, at 25. The little pisher from P.E.I. had made it out of the Maritimes, finding the city of his future. By the mid-1970s, he was at the CBC, first filing for radio--from as far away as Saigon, poised to fall to the North Vietnamese--then, in 1977, for CBC TV's The National. He was not standard material for television, yet something about it worked. He became a household name.
In those days, the Ottawa press corps was a hard-drinking, carousing bunch, and the division between reporters and political operatives was more porous than now. It was an atmosphere to which Duffy's backslapping, voluptuary style was well suited. In testimony, he described the years after his marriage broke down in 1979, when he became estranged from his two children, as a "lost decade," and allowed himself to weep.
He maintained a routine that did little to prevent his current heart and other health complaints, which are legion. But his career did not suffer. By the end of the 1980s he was at CTV hosting political talk shows modelled on such U.S. programs as Meet the Press.
It was in the mid-1980s that Duffy first met a young man who, years later, would turn his life upside down--and whose life Duffy would help upend in turn. Nigel Wright, then in his early 20s, was on hiatus from law school at the University of Toronto and working for Charles McMillan, senior policy advisor to Brian Mulroney. McMillan was a boyhood friend of Duffy's--his father, a surgeon, once administered to Duffy after an accident--and in an email to Maclean's, McMillan recalled introducing the two men at an Italian restaurant in Ottawa.
Duffy's arrival at the Senate, in late 2008, preceded Wright's at the PMO by just over a year. By then, Wright was a managing director at Onex Corporation, a Toronto-based private equity firm, pulling in a reported salary of $2 million. He helped establish the Conservative Fund of Canada, ran 20 km each morning and was a fierce Anglican.
Really, you could not have found two men more different than Duffy and Wright.
Duffy had been absent from P.E.I. for more than 40 years, and his appointment to the Senate for that province proved immediately controversial. Things were slower to boil in the rest of Canada, but boil they did.
"Your primary residence is P.E.I. yet you vote in Kanata, correct?" Glen McGregor, at the time a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, wrote Duffy on Dec. 3, 2012 (he is now with CTV). "I think a lot of people would be interested to know you can claim extra costs of a 'secondary residence' in a city you've been in since 1974. Anything you think I should know about this, please let me know."
McGregor's story appeared online that night. But it was not until February 2013, when a news report said Duffy had contacted the P.E.I. health minister's office looking to fast-track his application for a provincial health card, that the issue first became of concern to Nigel Wright. "This caught my eye," Wright testified. It was an indication, he said, that Duffy was "less than comfortable" with his residency status.
If Wright was concerned, reporters were delighted. On Feb. 6, Duffy fled a media scrum seeking to ask him about his expenses--he scrambled through a hotel kitchen in Halifax as security ran interference. "You should be doing adult work," Duffy, the former journalist, told a reporter.
According to his testimony at trial, Chris Woodcock's job as director of issues management in the PMO was to brief Harper on anything that "would ruin the prime minister's day." This was one of those things. Woodcock fashioned a media line for Duffy.
"As a long-time Prince Edward Islander, I am proud to represent my province and its interests in the Senate of Canada," it read. "I have a home in Prince Edward Island and I have provided the Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration with documentation demonstrating that I am a resident."
Woodcock distributed this among his PMO brethren, among them Wright and Ray Novak, Harper's principal aide. "Agree," responded Wright, who has a penchant for lofty language. "But let this small group be under no illusion. I think that this is going to end badly."
The next day, the Senate referred Duffy's residency declarations and related expenses to external auditors at Deloitte, the forensic accounting firm, along with those of Sen. Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb, who has since retired from the Senate.
Duffy went ballistic, prompting Wright to seek solutions that would, as he put it in what's since become an infamous email, "prevent him from going squirrelly on a bunch of weekend panel shows."
What followed was a concerted effort on the part of Wright and his PMO underlings to contain the growing scandal.
Much of the story is lost in the confusion surrounding events about which the key players deeply disagree. It began with heated discussions between Wright and Duffy about whether Duffy could defend his living expense claims, which at the time were understood to amount to $32,000 over four years. Duffy believed he had a good technical case--that Deloitte would put him in the clear.
Wright believed this didn't matter, and urged Duffy to stop arguing his case. Duffy mentioned he had a binder of materials outlining his activities--evidence, as he saw it, that he really did live in Cavendish, P.E.I., making Kanata his secondary abode. Wright said he'd look at it.
He never did. Arriving at Langevin, Duffy's package somehow ended up misplaced in the office of Wright's executive assistant, David van Hemmen. Recovered after Wright's resignation, this material would prove crucial in the RCMP's developing case against Duffy and to Wright's future.
To the extent he knew of these discussions--and this remains a point of controversy--Wright's boss agreed with his chief of staff. This was not a technical issue related to constitutional residency requirements, the PM suggested. "This issue is about $'s," Harper pronounced in a handwritten note, the only way he communicated with underlings save for rare face-to-face meetings, according to testimony.
Novak conveyed this judgement to the cabal of PMO staffers working the issue.
Meanwhile, Duffy and Wright were increasingly communicating only through counsel--the Ottawa employment lawyer Janice Payne for Duffy, Benjamin Perrin, the PMO's in-house counsel, for the other side. Wright demanded that Duffy issue a mea culpa and commit to reimbursing the government. Duffy resisted. Things grew more complicated still after Duffy told Wright that even if he did want to repay, he did not have the money.
Eventually, the two parties hammered out a solution: Duffy would admit to--maybe!-making a mistake and publicly commit to repayment; Wright would make sure Duffy was not out of pocket, and would make arrangements to have him removed from the external Deloitte audit.
Nevertheless, Duffy remained troubled by the arrangement. On Feb. 22, PMO staffers were working full throttle to get his admission onto television when Duffy wrote Novak, who many take as a surrogate for Harper.
"Ray," he wrote, "I am cooked. I did nothing wrong. [...] I swing between the team player mode and do anything for pmsh [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] and it is time for me to say phack it. Let deloitte decide. If I leave it to them I have an avenue of appeal to the courts. If I take a dive for my leader when I am innocent the[n] I am totally at the mercy of the media the opposition etc."
Duffy made it to air. "I would never knowingly fiddle anything," he told CBC host Bruce Rainnie in Charlottetown. Just over a month later, after it became clear that Duffy's dubious expenses totalled almost three times the initial estimates, Wright ordered a CIBC bank draft in the amount of $90,172.24 and sent it to Duffy's lawyer.
Wright resigned as Stephen Harper's chief of staff on May 19, 2013. Two months later, Sgt. Horton paid him a visit. Was it Wright's impression that Duffy thought so highly of himself that he believed he could dictate terms to his handlers in the PMO?
"I don't think so," Wright replied, according to a transcript Bayne read in court. "I think this is a scared man, flailing around. He thinks I threatened him--he feels we're against him, he doesn't trust me. He thinks his very existence as a senator is at risk."
A year later, on July 17, 2014, the RCMP laid its charges against Duffy. Many wondered why Wright had not also been charged with bribery for his part in the $90,000 transaction. According to a source, the Mounties pondered this. One obstacle was the apparent absence of mens rea on Wright's part--the "guilty mind" a Crown must prove to win conviction. But at some point, too, Wright handed the RCMP the binder of materials Duffy had sent him in his efforts to prove he had a technical case for claiming his entitlements.
The binder proved key to the RCMP's approach to Wright. It included Duffy's calendars, office diaries, travel records and other documents, and formed the basis for the first 28 charges laid against him. The RCMP decided Wright would make a compelling witness at trial.
Wright's appearance in the witness box was scheduled to begin the second week of August. On Aug. 2, Harper dropped the election writ. There had always been a possibility that Wright and other former members of the PMO would testify mid-election. Thanks to Harper's own fixed-date election law, voting day was slated to fall on Oct. 19. By August, time was running out.
Things in the court had grown awfully dull. Spectators, even members of court staff, made a hobby of stifling yawns. There were abstruse legal arguments--case law on Cypriot irrigation systems, Italian birth records, a Thunder Bay man's Finnish military records--and oddly personal jabs between the Crowns and defence.
"Why not cover a real trial?" one prominent Ottawa criminal lawyer catcalled to reporters outside the courthouse one day, and the reporters felt this was a fair question.
Harper's election call changed all that.
"I walked down the hall to his office," Wright testified on Aug. 12, the first day of proceedings after a two-month adjournment. The office was Harper's in Langevin, and the discussion that Wright said ensued went to the heart of the scandal. "We are good to go from the PM," read an email Wright circulated after the meeting.
In court, Wright exhibited an introvert's tendency to fold his arms against himself. Trim to the point of miniature, he had a gangly awkwardness about him that, though he was 52, recalled a kid in his first suit. Then he stepped into the witness box, swung his gaze through the room and fixed Neubauer with a caliper-grip look. It was clear this was a man capable of brutal sternness.
Neubauer flew through his examination in a day. "I was doing a good deed," Wright told the room about his $90,000 payment to Duffy; he even quoted scripture to explain why he kept it secret--Matthew 6:3: "When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." For about a day, Wright made the improbable story of why he gave Duffy a good deal of money feel plausible, reasonable, even like the only thing he could have done. "I couldn't think of another way of doing it," he said. For these few hours, Wright was a commanding force in the room.
Then Bayne got at him. From the beginning of trial, Bayne had always been fascinating to watch. There was something of Sherlock in the way he cast his eye about the room, shrugged one shoulder, then hunched over a podium--frequently he had two of them set up, weighted down with books--and glared at the witness.
But now, with Wright, there was something else going on--a shift in Bayne's approach.
The defining moment came on Aug. 14, Wright's third day of testimony, his second undergoing cross-examination. Bayne was asking why Harper aide Ray Novak's email to Wright, which relayed the prime minister's edict on an aspect of the Senate expense scandal, was one of very few communications on the matter Wright never gave police. It was a question that caused Wright to look awfully uneasy.
The Novak email, and a second from Benjamin Perrin, were both redacted in Wright's dossier of Duffy-related materials--labelled: "Privileged and not relevant." Bayne pointed out that Wright had provided every other email at his disposal touching on Duffy.
Why did it appear he'd redacted only these?
Wright explained that the Harper decision contained in Novak's email--"Had I known we were going down this road I would have shut it down long before this memo," the PM said of efforts by the Tory leadership in the Senate to nail down residence criteria for senators--was part of a policy discussion, and not germane to an ethics commission inquiry for which Wright originally prepared the materials.
RCMP investigators later inherited Wright's file as he'd first compiled it.
Bayne's suggestion was clear: Wright remained Harper's loyal servant, and had failed to include the Novak and Perrin emails because he was protecting his former boss. Harper's communication, after all, put the PM at the heart of high-level discussions around how to contain the Duffy scandal.
Bayne seemed reluctant to credit the explanation; indeed, it looked from the gallery as though Wright were daring the room to believe him. Bayne was rattling the foundations of Wright's credibility. Shaking his head, Bayne asked Justice Vaillancourt whether this mightn't be a good time to take the morning break.
It was during the ensuing recess, in the lobby outside, that reporters heard Harper's live hit from Hay River, N.W.T., a stop on the campaign trail. He was responding to a reporter's question about another email released in the course of the trial--this one from Wright to Novak and Perrin about Wright's $90,000 payment to Duffy.
"I will send my cheque on Monday," Wright had written the pair.
It was the third consecutive day the Duffy trial had hijacked Harper's agenda out on the hustings.
The email appeared to indicate that Novak knew all about the payment to Duffy. Wright had resigned over the issue. Shouldn't Novak, who'd replaced Wright as chief of staff, also be held accountable?
"I would simply not accept the premise of that question," Harper said. "These are the actions of Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright. You hold people responsible for their own actions. You certainly don't hold subordinates responsible for the actions of their superiors."
Wright, the good soldier, was allowing his credibility to fray; Harper, who had been his captain, was letting him do it.
Wright's ordeal in court prompted a buoyancy in Duffy's mood the likes of which the trial had not seen. Veritably he bounded through the corridors of the courthouse. He threw the door to the men's room open like he were entering a saloon, and complimented a reporter on his courtroom dispatch.
The Crowns, meanwhile, appeared confused by Bayne. His approach to cross did not always reflect a strategy focused on the 31 bribery, breach of trust and fraud charges laid against his client.
What on Earth, to name one example, did Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton's pop-psychology analysis of Wright, outlined by Hamilton during an RCMP interview he gave in the Duffy matter, have to do with how closely Duffy followed Senate rules?
Bayne didn't seem fazed by the question. He just read out the portion of RCMP transcript in which Hamilton said he believed Wright's experience working in Mulroney's PMO had led him to personally pay for Duffy's questionable expenses. Wright had once complained to Hamilton that Mulroney-era scandal had derailed the Tory agenda; he'd never permit anything similar to happen to Stephen Harper's government.
Not exactly exculpatory in any sort of Mike Duffy kind of way. Yet Bayne was at pains to trot it out--maybe because such chestnuts were newsworthy and would keep the trial in the headlines.
Similarly, when Justice Vaillancourt didn't permit Bayne to ask Wright questions based on his aide van Hemmen's RCMP interview, Bayne read the transcript out anyway, though Wright was still waiting outside for the judge to settle the objection. That interview contained van Hemmen's wonderfully direct assessment of the Tory leadership in the Senate: "Are you bad at your job or what?" It was juicy stuff; the press got it down in their notebooks.
Therefore the question was asked whether Bayne would have handled Wright differently had a federal election not been running in parallel with the trial. Was inflicting political damage part of the strategy, or simply a happy consequence? There was a view it was the former. Some said Bayne and Duffy's aim was to disrupt the election, and Harper's ability to advance his campaign, and that this had distorted the proceedings--never more so than when Wright appeared.
Wright, meanwhile, did not look good. He knew his testimony was kryptonite to the Conservatives out on the campaign trail. He watched Bayne warily, his eyes screwed into him like bolts. Why had the money Duffy used to reimburse Canadian taxpayers come, secretly, from Wright's personal account? Wasn't it political expediency, Bayne asked.
"I was happy to have people believe he had repaid," Wright said.
"To inflict on Duffy and the public a deceptive scenario?"
Wright demurred.
Then, on Aug. 18, Bayne broke the place apart. It happened late in the day, when he began quizzing Wright about his part in a conference call, on March 22, 2013, with Janice Payne, the Ottawa employment lawyer who represented Duffy at the height of the scandal. "And sir," Bayne asked, "who on your side was on that call?"
In the matter-of-fact way he had by then adopted in his dealings with Bayne, Wright replied:
"Ben Perrin and myself."
Bayne found this answer odd. So did anyone else who'd read "Exhibit 45(A),
Chronological Emails," a smooth-moving, defence-compiled series of emails bouncing between PMO staffers, bound in sequence like an epistolary novel (perhaps Bayne's most brilliant gambit). Odd because in one of these emails, van Hemmen, Wright's aide, is seen to inform Payne that Wright, Perrin and Harper's amanuensis, Novak, would be in on the call.
"Aren't you forgetting a third person?" Bayne asked.
"No. Um. Ray--Ray was not in on the call. He may have dropped into the office for part of it. But he was not on that call."
Bayne did not immediately respond-indeed, he allowed a pause to inject a foreboding silence into the room. The gallery was listening very carefully.
Already it had been a testy day of testimony. Bayne had in cross been probing what role Irving Gerstein, a Tory who announced his retirement from the Senate recently, had played in Wright's efforts to meet one of the conditions of his deal with Duffy--getting him withdrawn from the Deloitte audit.
Gerstein, who is chair of the Conservative Fund of Canada--the Conservative Party's fundraising arm--knew someone at Deloitte, according to court documents and trial testimony. Wright was under the impression that Duffy's repayment would render the Deloitte audit moot. But when confirming this proved elusive, Wright asked Gerstein to reach out to his contact at the firm.
Wright told the court this was so Gerstein could get representatives from Deloitte and the Senate together to resolve the issue. Bayne called this baloney and proposed a different scenario based on his interpretation of the email and documentary evidence already filed as exhibits here.
One of these was the Deloitte mandate setting out the audit's terms. PMO staffers had secured this document, which was clearly stamped "confidential." More damning were PMO emails suggesting Gerstein had received secret information from his contact about how Deloitte would find in its probe of Duffy. This had been billed to the public as an independent third-party audit; now it was looking like anything but.
"Just heard from Gerstein," Patrick Rogers, the PMO's former director of parliamentary affairs, wrote. "Here's the latest and most useful information yet from Deloitte." The skinny here was that Deloitte would not change its findings even if Duffy did repay; and that, because Duffy had not co-operated with the auditors--at the PMO's request--it could not find on his residency.
This meant Wright wouldn't be able to meet his commitment to Duffy that he be withdrawn from the audit, but it also meant the firm wouldn't find against him either.
Bayne put all of this to Wright.
"You're meddling with a strictly confidential audit!"
"We were not meddling with any audit."
"You're getting a report on it, before the public does, before the committee does. You're getting leaked information!"
Bayne permitted another pause to bloom into electric silence.
In the witness box, Wright struggled to get his view on the record.
"I completely disagree with you," he told Bayne. "Whether Sen. Duffy was technically onside or not with the rules was always irrelevant, what was relevant to me is that the expenses he was claiming were inappropriate and had to be repaid."
It was now that Bayne launched into his examination of the Wright-Payne conference call. Who was on it? Me and Perrin, Wright told him. Wasn't he forgetting Novak? No, said Wright.
"You know that Mr. Perrin's evidence will be he was on the call throughout?" said Bayne.
"I don't know that," Wright said. "I know the email suggests that he was invited but I don't know-that's just not true."
Bayne took his time considering this. The room grew entirely still.
"Does he just wander through your office?" Bayne asked Wright of Novak.
"He's got the office next door; I think he had other things going on--I think I wanted him on the call, but he didn't participate."
"I'm not going to take you through Mr. Perrin's expected evidence on this, but have you talked to Mr. Perrin? Since all this matter broke in 2013? Have you ever talked to him?" Bayne was looking Wright over.
"I spoke to him once or had an email exchange with him once at the very beginning."
"What about Ray Novak?"
"Yes. I've spoken to Ray." Wright choked these words out.
"You know that Ray Novak's public position on this is that"--Bayne injected a pause here-"he never knew that it was you that was going to be paying the money on this phony Mike-Duffy-repaid scenario. He never knew it was you until sometime later. Right?"
"And I take it you know that his position publicly is also that--'Oh, I was on the call but I left the call'? Right?"
"I think that's accurate--he popped in and out."
"And, 'I got Nigel's email but I didn't read it,' " Bayne said, mocking Novak's public position.
"I saw that," Wright responded.
"When did you last talk to Ray Novak?" Those in the courtroom had by now very nearly ceased breathing, so charged was this exchange. All of it appeared designed to drive the proceedings beyond the charges at hand.
"I would have spoken to him in"--Wright paused--"May or June."
"I want to be precise with you," Bayne said now. "When did you last communicate in any fashion, directly or indirectly, with Ray Novak ? "Probably two weeks ago."
A pause. That put their discussions at approximately the same time the election was called.
"For how long?" Bayne wanted to know.
"Um. It's basically messages."
"For how long?"
"A minute or two."
"Email messages?"
"Ah, BBM."
"And these are the messages that have no record, BBMs?"
"I don't know if that's true."
"Are they like the PINs? Secure messages?"
"It's BlackBerry Messenger--yeah."
"Yeah. Do you have copies of those messages?"
"Do I have copies of them? No."
Here Bayne now abruptly dropped the issue. He returned to the conference call. "Did you, in fact, on that call, indicate to Ms. Payne that you would be the source of the repayment of funds?"
"Yes," said Wright. "She said that she needed instructions from her client, but I felt that she was positively disposed, so that led to a conversation about my sending a cheque over to her."
Now Bayne began to quote at length from Perrin's 2014 interview with Sgt. Horton in Vancouver, where Perrin is an associate professor at the University of British Columbia's Peter A. Allard School of Law.
"Ray was in that meeting, and Ray heard this, and I remember looking at Ray to see his reaction," Perrin told Horton of the moment Wright informed Payne he'd personally be covering the $90,000 in living expense claims.
"I'll be providing my cheque," Perrin said Wright told Payne.
Horton, at this point, cut in: "So Ray in his interview last week said that he wasn't aware at this time that Nigel was going to repay the money."
"I've actually been shocked when I saw the ITO [information to obtain] coming out saying who knew," Perrin told Horton, "because Ray Novak was not listed in that, okay?"
A scrum of journalists pounced on Bayne immediately after Justice Vaillancourt vacated the bench at the end of that day. One reporter made bold to ask Bayne whether she could take a photograph of the page from which he'd read during his cross of Wright--the section of Sgt. Horton's interview with Perrin in which Perrin placed Novak in the room with Wright when he described the $90,000 as "coming out of my pocket."
Bayne looked at the Crowns, who looked at Bayne, who turned back again and looked at the reporter. The police statement had not been filed as an exhibit in the trial; this was against the rules of disclosure.
"Come on guys, there's a f--king election going on," the reporter told the lawyers. The Perrin statement was so explosive there was no room for error in reporting its contents.
The Crowns watched as Bayne read the relevant section of the transcript out again; the reporters held their recording devices up as he did so.
It proved a bruising news day for the Conservatives. Though it was not obvious what good this did for Duffy in his fight against his charges, Bayne's re-enactment of the Perrin RCMP interview put Novak inside the controversy. These courtroom events also happened to fall on the day an older white-haired gentleman arrived at a Stephen Harper campaign stop in Toronto and berated news reporters for asking about Duffy.
"It isn't a deal, it's a nothing; Harper doesn't read income tax forms, you idiot!" the man said. "You're a lying piece of s--t. And you too!"
Whatever Duffy and Bayne's intentions, it is now clear that the trial hurt the Conservatives during the election. "It's one of the most negative events in the campaign for the Tories, in the same range as the appearance with Rob Ford," says Innovative Research Group pollster Greg Lyle, making reference to Harper's widely panned rally with Rob and Doug Ford in Etobicoke, Ont.
Lyle says the trial's biggest impact was on swing voters. While 15 per cent of core supporters felt more inclined to vote Conservative because of the Duffy proceedings--"Those are the core Tories who thought the media were being mean to them," Lyle says--30 per cent of "soft" or "second-choice" voters, people who might otherwise have remained accessible to the party, were less likely to, according to the pollster. "The Tory challenge in this campaign was to roll back that time-for-a-change vote--they had to increase the size of their pool," he says. "How big a deal was the Duffy trial? It was the thing in August that stopped the Tories from expanding that pool."
The effect did not last--Duffy dropped off the radar after his trial went dark in late August. For the Conservatives, the vacuum left behind merely invited new negatives, says Lyle, of which they had plenty: "The Tories still were not able to move the dial or increase their pool."
But back in courtroom 33 in August, election day was still two months away. The day after the Perrin revelations, Bayne strove to get the trial even closer to Harper. He read from an email, written by Wright on May 14, 2013, and sent to Harper's close aide Jeremy Hunt, as well as to two of Harper's front-line media handlers, Andrew MacDougall and Carl Vallee. Robert Fife, CTV's Ottawa bureau chief, had just asked the prime minister's office whether Wright co-signed a loan to help Duffy secure funds and repay his expenses. The jig was up.
"The PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy when I was getting him to agree to repay the expenses," Wright said in the email. "On the specific matter, I did not co-sign a loan."
Bayne swooped in on what "personally assisted" might mean. "Because," he said, "based on your earlier evidence--that the only personal contribution to Sen. Duffy repaying that you made was your provision of the funds--and that the PM knew that you personally assisted Sen. Duffy in getting him to agree to repay, there can't be anything else personal that you told the prime minister--because that's the only personal part."
Bayne was trying to get Wright to admit he'd told Harper about giving Duffy the money.
Holmes jumped to his feet. "With the greatest of respect," he began, "that'll be a submission I suppose in December--although at that point, with the election being over, it won't really matter as much, I dare say."
Bayne audibly scoffed.
"This," Holmes continued, "seems to be entirely politically motivated, as opposed to relevant to anything in this trial. Mr. Duffy, Mr. Bayne may have an agenda, but I don't think the court should be party to it."
"Can the witness step out?" Bayne asked.
"Yes," said Justice Vaillancourt.
Wright marched out. As always when banished from the room during an objection, Wright began pacing in front of the courtroom doors, back and forth, awaiting his invitation to return.
"Your Honour," said Bayne, chuckling. "My friend Mr. Holmes shouldn't let his anger get the better of him. And to make intemperate statements like 'playing out political agendas.' It is clear that this man's credibility is highly relevant here. That's why I'm pursuing them. That's all I'm doing here. It's not inappropriate cross-examination."
Holmes rose to his feet again. He dropped his voice to a near-whisper. "Except that he has the answer on that point," he said of Bayne. "To go further on a point that is immaterial isn't appropriate. There are themes in Sen. Duffy's emails where sort of 'visiting political consequences upon the PMO' are clear."
Then Holmes raised the events of the previous day. "I mean, yesterday, Mr. Bayne read out passages from Benjamin Perrin's statement, but didn't ask any questions about them. And those have fuelled a whole media cycle--to a media scrum when we closed things down at the end of the court day." Holmes gestured to the gallery. "That's why most of these people are here. But that isn't reason enough to allow him to continue."
Justice Vaillancourt made short work of the objection. "I find the question by defence appropriate, and we'll all find out what the answer is," he said.
Wright trekked back into court. Bayne repeated the question of what Harper knew. "I was asking you, if that is true, what you told those people, that the broadest term in which you personally assisted Sen. Duffy is: 'Well, Mr. Prime Minister, I actually paid the money, that's how I assisted.' And you had agreed there was no other personal way you had assisted."
"The PM, while I never engaged with him a lot on this, knew I was engaged personally in working with Sen. Duffy," Wright replied.
"And so you say those words do not amount to an admission that you told the prime minister about the only personal part you did play in this, in assisting him to pay--namely that you had provided the funds."
"I do."
On Aug. 25, during a break from his second day of testimony, former PMO director of issues management Chris Woodcock was seen in the hall of the Ottawa courthouse in conversation with a rotund, unshaven man wearing a red, oversized St. Louis Cardinals hoodie. The man in the hoodie was later identified as Nick Koolsbergen, then the PMO director of issues management, who had been following the proceedings from the trial's overflow room.
Another man, Conservative campaign staffer Christopher McFarlane, had also been monitoring the trial in the overflow room that day, and had initially drawn attention to himself for his habit of wearing a tuxedo to the courthouse each day. Sgt. Horton, who had once whiled away hours guessing which passersby on Sparks Street were PMO staffers based on their dress sense, had been eyeing the pair for days.
Once discovered, their presence at the trial--and especially Koolsbergen's contact with Woodcock while he was still a witness-generated yet more unwelcome headlines for the Tories. Asked during a campaign stop whether Koolsbergen had been "instructing" Woodcock, Harper replied: "Look, these are matters before the court and we don't interfere in them."
Conceded Kory Teneycke, a Harper spokesman: "I guess the appearance of that is not great."
Sure enough, the Harper Conservatives lost the election on Oct. 19. When the Duffy trial resumed in November, the media seats behind Horton sat largely empty.
Donald Bayne wandered the courtroom aisle between the pews with his hands in his pockets, eyeing the emptiness, his grin as always a combination of rueful and wicked. "Now it's just a criminal trial," he said. It was not the end, but it was sweet.
Caption: Dumped: Duffy (right) felt his former boss, Stephen Harper, threw him to the wolves
Caption: For the defence: Donald Bayne represented Duffy
Caption: Work it: Duffy hired Croskery (right) as personal trainer then as Senate consultant
Caption: Scrum: Reporters flocked to the courthouse each day of the trial
Caption: Witness: 'I was doing a good deed', said Wright
Caption: The call: (from left) Perrin, Novak and Wright. Who was there, and when?
Caption: Waiting: The trial is now over, with a verdict expected in April

Post-Sanction Iran Remains A Country Divided; Iranians are emboldened by the nuclear deal, but the battle between conservatives and reformers is far from decided

Deep in the basement of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, behind a door that opens with a spoked wheel like a bank vault, are some 2,000 paintings by artists such as Francis Bacon, Rene Magritte, Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin. Iranian curators say the collection is estimated to be worth $5 billion, but only a select group of people have seen it since the 1979 revolution. A few days after I arrived in Tehran in February, I was given a rare opportunity: a private underground tour of the former shah's art collection, one of the largest in the Middle East, housed in a building that the shah's wife, Farah Pahlavi, erected in the 1970s. There have been occasional limited exhibits, but most of the art has been in storage for decades. A few lucky visitors are now allowed to view the collection, and there are negotiations underway for at least part of it to travel to Germany and the U.S. in 2016."What do you want to see first?" I was asked as huge canvases were wheeled out one by one. There was an Andy Warhol portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong and an enormous painting by Pablo Picasso. (The collection is said to include some risque works, including paintings by Picasso and Edvard Munch, but I was not shown those.) I stood in the cavernous, slightly dusty room and stared in awe. Upstairs, Chinese tourists, wearing smog masks to protect against Tehran's notorious pollution, were wandering through the gardens, gazing at Alberto Giacometti sculptures and looking at the paintings of a gifted Iranian artist, Farideh Lashai, who died in 2013. We could have been at the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Tate in London. Later, I sat in the museum's sunlit cafe with Vida Zaim, who is working with her colleague Leila Varasteh, a Paris-based curator, to bridge the gap between the West and Iran through art. We drank Italian coffee and talked about how her country is changing. "As an Iranian, I'm very proud to know that many Western museums are discussing showing a part of this unseen collection to the outside world," she says.

I've reported from 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, but it took me nearly 15 years to get a visa for Iran. I arrived a few weeks after the lifting of international sanctions in return for Iran's agreement to curb its nuclear program. Tehran is changing fast, and the art collection to me was a symbol of the country's emergence from a cocoon.

My hotel on Valiye Asr Street, a long, winding thoroughfare that runs through the city, was full of visiting delegations of European business executives and EU officials. There was a buzz of deals being brokered at informal meetings in the coffee shop.I had to fly in via Turkey, but that will soon change. Air France is establishing direct flights from Paris to Tehran in the spring, and Iran Air is trying to get more competitive. In January, the Iranian government agreed to buy $25 billion worth of planes from Airbus, the France-based aeronautical company, and Iran Air is considering resuming flights to the U.S., where many Iranian expatriates have lived since the revolution. "We all have American relatives and family outside, so this means a lot to be able to travel more easily," says a dentist living in North Tehran whom I met at a party (like others I spoke to, he was reluctant to be identified so as to avoid drawing government scrutiny in a country where arbitrary arrest is common).

China is also expanding its trade with Iran, and there were many Chinese tourists on the streets. The Chinese, who have already built Tehran's modern subway system, have agreed to finance a high-speed railway modeled on France's TGV. China is also relying on imported Iranian oil, and President Xi Jinping visited Tehran in January to sign a deal expanding trade between the two countries to $600 billion in the coming decade.

In Paris, where I live, many friends are trying to visit Iran for business or pleasure, eager to study the cultural and historic treasures of the country before it is "ruined" by tourism. Sylvie Franquet, a French Arabist based in London, recently brought a group of writers, publishers and academics on a three-week tour of Iran. "There is so much to take in. History, friendly people, fabulous landscape," says Franquet. "Now is the time to go, before every brand moves in and it becomes like the rest of the world. It will change very fast now."

Perhaps the greatest schism I witnessed during my visit to Iran was between the conservative Tehran that many in the West imagine when they think of Iran's Islamic Republic and the wealthy suburbs of North Tehran, in the shadow of the Alborz Mountains. In the Elahieh (Paradise) neighborhood, which was once covered by lush private gardens, there are now expensive marbled apartments that are increasingly hard to buy. Here there are no chadors. The shops sell elegant clothes, and the women carry Chanel and Balenciaga bags, wear Lanvin and hold fantastic parties in their elegant homes, where servants circulate among the guests, carrying silver trays of delicious Persian specialties. These Iranians do not call for death to America--they speak several languages, many have graduated from American universities, and their children go to local French, British or German schools. I met several people in one afternoon who went to my alma mater in the U.S., Tufts University.Weekends, which begin here on Thursday night, are spent at second homes, skiing at nearby Mount Tochal or racing purebred Persian horses. "But this isn't the way life is for most Iranians," says a banker who travels between Tehran, London and Boston. "We're Iranians, but people who live like this are really tourists in this country."The elite in North Tehran are enjoying the changes since sanctions were lifted. Real money is coming back to Iran. Many of the crowd I saw in Elahieh are buying and restoring old homes from the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties in Kashan, a lovely city about halfway between Tehran and Isfahan, for their getaways. A renowned Belgian neo-conceptual artist, Wim Delvoye, has purchased several houses in Kashan and is preparing to open a luxury hotel and a museum gallery in Kashan. A retrospective show by Delvoye, who worked with the curators Zaim and Varasteh, opened at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art on March 7. "It's thriving," says Nikki Diana Marquardt, who hosted an exhibition for the Iranian artist Reza Derakshani at her Paris gallery in 2008. "It's like London, Paris. It's like Dubai. It's not emerging; it has emerged."

Of course, the conservative Tehran of the last three decades still exists too. On February 11, a clear winter morning in Tehran, I walked through dense crowds to join a celebration of several hundred thousand Iranians carrying green, white and red flags, banners and placards with photos of their religious leaders. They gathered in Azadi (Freedom) Square to celebrate the anniversary of the fall of the shah 37 years ago. On that day in 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from a 14-year exile in Iraq and France, and life changed radically in Iran. Miniskirts and champagne disappeared, and a violent rupture ended a long association with America, reviled as the sponsor of the autocratic shah. The epoch of the mullahs began. Among the crowd in Azadi Square were religious women in chadors, young boys with the Iranian colors smeared on their faces, families who came out solely to see the military hardware on display, and young soldiers marching in formation in red, white and green hats.

Some were hard-line supporters of the clerics who have dominated this country for years now, and I heard and saw plenty of slogans and signs saying "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." Still, people were friendly. Even clerics stopped to talk to me, as did groups of teenage girls, who echoed their support of the mullahs. Others tried to explain the context to me: "'Death to America' doesn't mean death to the American people," says an engineering student who studied at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "It means the end of the U.S. government controlling us. It means independence."

One afternoon, my government-assigned companion and translator, Ali Kejani, took me to the Tehran neighborhood Bahar Shiraz, where he grew up playing soccer on the streets in the days of the shah. He brought me to meet a friend, Fatimah Abbasi, a 78-year-old woman who lost four sons fighting in the Iran-Iraq War, which ended in 1988 and left 1 million dead. We sat and talked in her tiny flat, and this elderly woman seems to bear no bitterness to the government over the loss of her sons. They were martyrs for Iran, she says proudly. Instead, she blames America for her loss.

"I am still an enemy of the U.S.," she says. "I don't want relations with the U.S. We weren't in favor of the nuclear deal--we were forced. For years, they kept us under sanctions, and we survived. We ate less, but we were free of them."

Most of the anxieties expressed by Iranians I met have to do with whether they can fully trust Washington's intentions after the nuclear deal that was signed this past July between Iran and six world powers. Many in the United States, especially Republicans, have the same suspicions about Iran--as does Israel, which lobbied hard against the deal and is concerned by the anti-Israel rhetoric that has continued unabated from Iranian leaders. The nuclear accord was President Barack Obama's signature overseas achievement, and whether it endures will say as much about the wisdom of his foreign policy as it will about President Hassan Rouhani, who was the driving force behind it in Iran.

Iran has finally gained access to tens of billions of dollars of assets that were frozen overseas, and oil exports have resumed. The lifting of sanctions, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh told Iranian television, will allow Iran to "expand our relationship with the international community better than before." A strong performance by reformist candidates in the February 26 elections indicates a majority of Iranians support the deal, but there is also widespread suspicion that Iran compromised more than it should have.

"We were not the decision-makers in all this," says Rafat Bayat, a former conservative member of parliament whom I met in her office in a less elegant part of North Tehran on a snowy afternoon. Bayat wore a chador, but her son, a student whom I met before she arrived, brought coffee and fruit and talked to me about his favorite American TV shows, including Breaking Bad and House of Cards.

His mother, though educated at the University of Texas, seems more conservative than her son. "If the U.S. doesn't live up to its promises, we will start our program again," she warns. "You have to remember that we have not lost our scientists." She is also dubious that things will change quickly, at least for ordinary Iranians. "So far, even after sanctions, nothing has really happened. Our cash has not been returned. It has been all to the benefit of the Europeans who sold to us," Bayan says. "The foreigners are deciding whether they sell airplanes or Peugeots--we will truly feel the sanctions are gone when we make our own decisions about our own money."

Many Iranians feel that they were expected to accept strict limits on their nuclear program while other countries--including Pakistan, Israel and even the U.S.--are allowed to continue their nuclear development. On this point, there is real anger.

"[The West has] to take heed of what people say today," Ali Akbar Salehi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran told Press TV, the English-language channel in Iran, on the day of the anniversary celebrations. "There is no room for mistakes on their side. They have to understand this is a nation that never submits itself. Please stop testing this nation."It may have been that kind of defiance and refusal to appear cowed by the West that led Iran to test a ballistic missile in late 2015, sparking howls of anger from those in the United States who have never trusted the Iranians and cries of "I told you so" from Israel. Obama responded by having his administration draw up a list of new sanctions against Iran, even as he was preparing to lift the nuclear-related ones in mid-January. Republicans complained that was too little and demanded a tougher response. While Obama has insisted sanctions related to Iran's support for terrorism and missile tests are separate from the nuclear deal, Iranians want all sanctions lifted."It can go either way," says Foad Izadi, a professor of American studies at Tehran University with whom I had tea. "Even the new generation, the youth with iPhones drinking Coca-Cola, can go anti-American if they don't hold their end of the bargain."

The two elections--Iran's this past February and the upcoming U.S. presidential vote in November--will be critical for the Islamic republic's future. "Donald Trump and other [conservatives] would be a disaster for Iran," says Saeed Laylaz, who has been an adviser to the Iranian government. "They've already said they would tear up the nuclear deal."The doubts about the deal put Rouhani in a difficult position. He has fought for years to reach out to the West, but his power extends only so far: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on nuclear policy and controls the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which is playing a crucial role in Iran's overseas endeavors.

February's elections, for parliament and for the 88-member Assembly of Experts that chooses the next supreme leader, appeared to be a vote of confidence in Rouhani. Reformists did particularly well in Tehran, taking all 30 parliament seats and 15 of the 16 seats on the Assembly of Experts. Across the country, the result was more mixed, but reformists gained a substantial number of seats, which should give Rouhani leeway to push through more changes.The gains came despite efforts to keep some reformists off the ballot. The powerful Council of Guardians, a watchdog that supports Khamenei, has the right to vet candidates, and it disqualified about 60 percent of the 12,000 people who came forward as parliamentary candidates. Many of those disqualified sought better relations with the West, reforms to promote a free market economy and less government control. The culling by the Council of Guardians meant that in some parts of the country, there were no reformist candidates on the ballot.

For all those in Iran who want reform, there are as many who resist change. There has been no let-up in repression of those considered dissidents. And while the United States negotiated a prisoner swap in January to free several Americans, another dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, Siamak Namazi, who was detained by the Revolutionary Guard in October while visiting family in Iran, remains in prison. His elderly father was also arrested in February.

"While in the long term the power of the Pasdaran [Revolutionary Guard] in Iran may wane with the country opening up, I think they can still do a lot of damage in the region, emboldened by the very deal that is designed to weaken them," says Nadim Shehadi, director of the Fares Center at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, pointing to the Revolutionary Guard's role in Iraq.

The lifting of sanctions and the subsequent resumption of oil exports give Iran a chance to ramp up its support for allies overseas. Israel complains that Iran continues to supply weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and others bent on the destruction of the Jewish state. Iran has, with Russia, backed the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sending weapons, fighters and expertise to battle both the Islamic State militant group and the rebels backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Iranians are also fighting alongside Iraqi forces against ISIS in Iraq, and after the fall of Mosul in June 2014, the Revolutionary Guard was instrumental in pushing back the Sunni extremists from Baghdad.

Hossein Sheikholeslam, a former Iranian ambassador to Syria from 1998 to 2003 and a government adviser on international affairs, is adamant that Iran is involved purely to fight ISIS and not to carve out a greater Shiite role in the Middle East. "From the beginning, we have always said and believed that the Syrian people should have their own destiny," he says.Iran's support for Houthi rebels in Yemen, a Shiite group battling a Sunni government backed by Saudi Arabia, is another proxy war between Tehran and Riyadh, and could deepen into an outright Shiite-Sunni regional schism. The hatred between Iran and Saudi Arabia is deep. Saudi Arabia, feeling particularly vulnerable with an occasionally restive Shiite population of its own, made no secret of its opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Many in Saudi Arabia see the biggest security threat in the region not as ISIS, but as the rising Islamic Republic of Iran."Whatever one thinks about other aspects of the Iran deal, it was an excellent outcome for the Iranian regime," says Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution. "Iran, benefiting from cash inflows and greater legitimacy among its people, will continue to play a more assertive and likely destabilizing role in the region." But, adds Hamid, "this isn't just about the Iranians. Saudi Arabia, Iran's archenemy, is also intent on playing a more muscular--and ultimately destabilizing--role, in part due to panic over U.S. disengagement from the region. Iran, for its part, senses and sees U.S. disengagement, which makes it all the more eager to step in and fill at least part of the power vacuum. This is not a good mix."

U.S. policy, he predicts, is the key factor. "As bad as U.S. involvement in the region has historically been, the region--as we have seen--is even worse off without it."

Tehran may be showing signs of change, but the struggle between reformers and conservatives is far from settled. "The problem with Iran is that there are two voices that are unable to solve their problems, like a man and wife who can't divorce," says Laylaz. "They cannot live together, and one side is set to destroy the other."