So this is how a prime ministerial legacy restoration attempt/public relations siege ends ...

Not with a bang but a foot-shuffling apology:

Brian Mulroney’s spokesman apologized to Allan J. MacEachen on Thursday after the retired Liberal senator threatened to sue him for refusing to rule him out as the Cape Bretoner who Mr. Mulroney suggested received money in the 1990s from Karlheinz Schreiber. […]

On Thursday, Mr. MacEachen’s lawyer, Ian Blue, wrote to Mr. Sears demanding that he exonerate Mr. MacEachen by 5 p.m. today or face legal action.

“By refusing to rule out Mr. MacEachen as the prominent Cape Breton politician that Mr. Mulroney was referring to, you implied by innuendo that Mr. MacEachen was the prominent politician in question,” Mr. Blue wrote. “Your innuendo is libellous.”

Mr. Sears wrote back, saying that he had in fact ruled out Mr. MacEachen.

“I can confirm that, in my public comments regarding the ‘Cape Breton politician’ in question in the inquiry, I did rule out Mr. MacEachen and in no way implied any reference to him,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, Mr. Sears apologized in the letter.

“I further offer my apologies to Mr. MacEachen for any difficulty caused him. I continue to have tremendous personal respect for Mr. MacEachen.”

As far as ITQ knows, no Searsian apologies have yet been forthcoming for the journalists he publicly accused of “giggling” during Mulroney’s testimony last week, despite the fact that, as the above story points out, both have categorically denied the allegations, and have been backed up by colleagues who were sitting near them at the time. Then again, they didn’t threaten to sue anyone, so they’re probably out of luck.

What gets me, though, is how perfectly this attempt at drive-by scattershot smearing encapsulates the strategy employed by the former prime minister throughout his appearance before the inquiry, which can best be summed up as follows: Never, ever miss an opening to launch into an attack on someone who, at some point in the last two or three decades may, in your mind at least, have done you wrong – or, at the very least, failed to do you right at a critical juncture — and bonus points if, at the same time, if you can work in a reference to one of your many political or personal achievements, your wide circle of world-renowned friends and admirers and/or evidence of your overall magnanimity.

From his almost Tourettesian tendency to tangent off on a tirade against the media, the RCMP, the previous Liberal government and the rest of the vast conspiracy against him — regardless of the questions he was being asked, and to the point that even the judge had to tell him to move on — to the passive aggressive snipes directed at his former chief of staff , Norm Spector —  who, Mulroney felt the need to remind us, he appointed as Canada’s ambassador to Israel at his request, because that’s just the kind of wonderful human being he is — it made for a dizzying, yet mesmerizing performance: sure, we had to sit through hour after hour of eyeglazingly tedious autohagiographical anecdotery, but it was occasionally livened up by a sudden outburst of pure venom.

What was really remarkable, however, was that even as Mulroney was on the witness stand, implying that “a leading political figure from Cape Breton” – was the mysterious Britan, he couldn’t resist trying to make it seem that he, himself, was far above stooping to such gutter tactics, telling the judge that, “inasmuch as there has been so much untruths about Britan and me,” he was “not about to trample on his reputation the way [his] has been trampled upon.”

Because really  —  it’s not like anyone hearing the above would immediately start mentally putting together a list of likely suspects, given the carefully construed parameters, right? That would never have occured to the former prime minister. Oh, and did he mention that he had his reputation “trampled upon” as well? Because he did. The only thing missing was a pious aside about his family, and the good name of his father — although considering the identity of the Cape Bretoner whose name first popped into most reporters’ heads, perhaps that was a deliberate omission.

It was a microcosm of his entire strategy, which makes it somehow fitting, I guess, that he — or his spokesman, at least — had to publicly back down from his final attempt to settle an old score, this time via guilt by geographic association. MacEachen, at least, was fired up enough to force Team Mulroney to respond; as for any other prominent political figures from Cape Breton, they can at least take comfort in the reaction of the Halifax Chronicle Herald‘s Steve Maher

When Brian Mulroney told the Oliphant inquiry on Tuesday that an unnamed Cape Breton politician was the real beneficiary of the Swiss bank account with the rubric Britan, I didn’t think: My goodness! Big news. Which Caper could be the real culprit?

I thought: Really? There are two reasons for this. First, it doesn’t make sense. Forensic accountants have shown that Karlheinz Schreiber withdrew $100,000 from the Britan account each time he went to see Mr. Mulroney in a hotel with a manila envelope full of $1,000 bills. He closed the account when his relationship with Mr. Mulroney ended.

And it’s hard to imagine that the person Mr. Mulroney seemed to have in mind — Allan J. MacEachen — could or would have helped Mr. Schreiber, not least because he was in opposition while Mr. Schreiber was making millions on secret comissions in deals with the Mulroney government.

Secondly, by this point in the proceedings, there is reason to be skeptical when Mr. Mulroney casts aspersions on others. There is reason to wonder if Mr. Mulroney is always firmly rooted in reality, or in a more free-floating place, where inconvenient facts are discarded or bent to fit the Mulroney narrative — where he is the innocent victim of evil schemers out to destroy him and his family.

(Full disclosure: Maher is a  close friend and fellow Hot Room inhabitant who has, incidentally, been doing an absolutely amazing job of covering the ins and outs of the inquiry for his paper.)

That, I suspect, will be Mulroney’s true legacy, at least for those of us who watched his performance over the last few days – which is not exactly what the former prime minister, or his public relations firm, was hoping to achieve.