Simon Bridges has profusely apologised to Maureen Pugh, a list MP he called "f***ing useless", and said this has been a "big and hard lesson" for him.
Bridges is responding to Jami-Lee Ross releasing a recorded conversation the two had in June where they discuss a $100,000 donation.
"He has defamed me and he is a liar," Bridges said.
"The reality is I believe Jami-Lee Ross has been secretly taping me for many, many months. That's a monumental breach of trust," Bridges said.
Bridges said he listened back to the tape and does not believe it supports Ross' claims.
"I am glad he [Ross] is no longer part of our caucus."
Bridges said he wanted to have the facts straight, before fronting to media yesterday.
"I am a lawyer – I am a cautious person who takes things seriously. This was a serious allegation. I wanted to make sure I had done my due diligence."
"Jami-Lee Ross is a person who lies and leaks and, in this conversation – he deliberately tried to set me up," Bridges said.
When asked about the conversation the two of them had about race, Bridges said he stood by National's effort to have a mix of ethnicities on its list, but he said it was discussed in a blunt manner.
"I am proud National is a party that values multiculturalism."
He said he didn't need to apologise to the Chinese community.
"I think New Zealanders would understand what I was trying to say."
"Jami-Lee Ross is a person who lies and leaks and, in this conversation – he deliberately tried to set me up."
Bridges said he thinks Ross could have been recording other MPs for a long time.
"He has defamed me and he has lied – nothing in what he has said stacks up."
But Bridges said he probably won't take legal action.
"It's probably not worth the time and the effort."
Bridges described Ross' police complaint as "bogus, stupid and vexatious" and he is not worried about the police investigation at all.
"He's a terrible person," Bridges said.
"I obviously didn't mind my Ps and Qs," Bridges said, in relation to the tape.
Bridges said his leadership was "absolutely safe."
"I something of a rough diamond sometimes. I'm not perfect."
The recording of Bridges reveals that the National Party leader thinks his MP Maureen Pugh is "f***ing useless" - but it is questionable whether it has any solid evidence of electoral fraud.
In discussing getting some new list MPs to make way for some new ones, Bridges said: "I reckon it's all three of our MPs who ... not thinking of obvious ones like [Chris] Finlayson or [David] Carter, but actually we just want them to go. Like Maureen Pugh's f***ing useless."
Bridges has since released a statement saying he had "unreservedly apologised" for his comment.
"It was inappropriate. I value the work she does as the National List MP based in West Coast-Tasman & as our Associate Spokesperson for Children," Bridges said.
"She has gracefully accepted."
In the recording, Ross responds by adding National MP Nicky Wagner's name to the list of MPs who may not be wanted.
Bridges responds that he doesn't want them all to go "this year".
The conversation was around how it would be to have the two Chinese people that Bridges dined with - Yikun Zhang and Colin Zheng - on the National Party list. Ross says the donation came from Yikun Zhang, but there was no suggestion that the Chinese businessman had done anything wrong.
Colin Zheng is the manager of KCC Construction, a company owned by Zhang Yikun.
Bridges said having two Chinese MPs would be "nice", but putting them on the list and keeping everyone happy would be "bloody hard".
"Depends where we're polling ... that sort of thing. Two Chinese would be nice but would it be one Chinese and one Filipino. What do we do?"
Ross replies that two Chinese would be better than two Indians.
Bridges agrees, but says that adding two Chinese would create a "sh*t fight" with sitting MPs. He then talks about cutting some list MPs to make way for new ones, and makes the comment about Finlayson, Carter and Pugh.
Ross says at one point that the donation money has "no catch", in spite of the discussion about getting two Chinese MPs.
Ross says that Zheng had enrolled in National's Candidates College.
In the rest of the audio, Bridges says little to suggest that he knowingly filed a false electoral donation.
Bridges acknowledges the dinner he had with Zhang and Zheng, and says "fantastic" when told the $100,000 donation was now sitting in a Botany electorate account.
He says the money could be used for "advertisements and the like".
Ross replies that he doesn't know what Bridges had arranged for the donation with party president Peter Goodfellow, but it needed to be filed as a party donation to remain under the disclosure requirements.
"I don't think we can raise tens of thousands and completely keep him out of the loop. Maybe if you're just honest with him about it," Ross says.
Bridges agrees: "I'll raise it with him [Goodfellow], but we should probably just think it through. It can be in the party, but I just want to make sure we've got that money to do those sorts of things. Don't you think?"
Ross says that party donations should be processed by National Party general manager Greg Hamilton.
"I think he'll accept it, I just need to explain to him what I want it for," Bridges replies. "Leave it with me. I might talk to [National MP Todd] McClay as well, see what he's got up his sleeve."
National List MP Parmjeet Parmar said she had not listened to the audio but did not want to comment on issues regarding the ethnicity of candidates.
Fellow list MP Kanwal Singh Bakshi could not immediately be reached for comment.
Chris Finlayson said he was relaxed about being mentioned in the audio.
"Anyone who knows me knows what I've been up to in the last couple of months and know that I'll be exiting this place very soon. In fact I've tried to drop hints around for people.
Asked if he was upset to be named as an MP on the way out, Finlayson said: "Hell no. Anyone who gets prissy about this stuff in the tough world of politics needs to get a life. If people knew what I said about them behind their backs ... It really is a question of 'let he who is sinless cast the first stone'."
He said the recording reflected poorly on Jami-Lee Ross.
"I take no pleasure from any of this stuff. I hate to see the destruction of a person of public life, be it Chris Carter or the innumerable NZ First MPs who have been dealt to, or anyone else. What's happened to Jami-Lee is very, very sad."
Finlayson would not comment on Bridges' comments about Pugh. He said it was more of a reflection on Ross.
Finlayson said he would be returning to the bar and be based in Auckland next year, and the recording just meant he could announce that he was leaving Parliament a bit earlier than expected.
"I could take offence or get all upset if I was a career politician, but I came in here to do one or two things. I've done them, and I'm very much looking forward to getting the hell out of here. When I leave this building, I'll never come back."
This afternoon, Ross had a two-hour meeting with police and laid his complaint about what he says was a "corrupt practice" regarding electoral donations.
The ousted MP said he played police this recording he had with Bridges, which Ross says makes it clear that Bridges wanted the person behind the $100,000 donation to be kept secret.
He said he felt "uncomfortable" to be asked to collect the $100,000 donation. so when he called him on June 25, "I felt there was some danger here" and he decided to record the conversation.
Ross then uploaded the audio file to Twitter.
He said Bridges was offered the $100,000 donation and replied "fantastic". He said Bridges asked him to split up the donation on May 21, but he did not have a recording of that conversation.
But he said the taped conversation on June 25 showed that Bridges wanted the donation split up to hide the identity of the donor.
Ross said the $100,000 donation was not split up by him.
Police confirmed they received a complaint at Wellington Central police station regarding the disclosure of political donations today and a Detective Senior Sergeant at Police National Headquarters would look into the matter to determine what further steps may be required from police.
"Police take any complaint regarding alleged Electoral Act offences seriously," a spokesperson said.
"Decisions regarding the outcome of such investigations are made based on the facts and available evidence, and in accordance with the Solicitor General's prosecution guidelines."