Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters has suggested Deputy Police Commissioner
Wally Haumaha's backing of police colleagues accused of rape in the 1980s was "correct" in the case of Clint Rickards.
Rickards, Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum claimed group sex with Louise Nicholas was consensual and were found not guilty at a 2006 trial.
The jury was unaware Shipton and Schollum were already in prison on other rape charges laid by Operation Austin.
Newly appointed Deputy Police Commissioner Haumaha has apologised for comments he made when Nicholas publicly accused Rickards, Shipton and Schollum of rape.
A Herald investigation revealed Haumaha questioned why Nicholas publicly accused his friends of raping her in the 1980s and continued to support them after the scandal broke, according to interviews with fellow officers.
Haumaha was close friends with the trio when they worked together at Rotorua police station in the 1980s and 1990s.
But speaking to Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking this morning, Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said Haumaha's comments were in part correct.
"His comments were about three policemen. Two were convicted but the third one was not, so to the extent about the third one he was obviously correct.
"Maybe, you know, without commenting on his case, often people rush to judgment to support friends or support associates and later look back and think to themselves, 'well, I didn't know that'."
Peters later told the Herald: "Either you are exonerated in an inquiry or a court of law or you're not. Mr Rickards was not regarded as being guilty. End of story.
"We're not going to have shades of grey here. We want someone to be either innocent or not innocent.
"You're going for the impropriety? Someone being convicted without the evidence being there in the first place?"
Nicholas said this morning that Peters' comments were "disappointing" and showed a lack of understanding about the issues with what Haumaha said to Operation Austin.
"That sucks. When people don't have a true understanding, they say dumb things.
"These guys admitted the inappropriate behaviour; they just said it was consensual. Convicted or not, it was inappropriate behaviour for serving police officers."
She said the politics were a distraction from the real issue.
"Was all the information put in front of the State Services Commission? Or did [Police Commissioner] Mike Bush not say anything?"
Nicholas said the police were well aware of her feelings towards Haumaha.
Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement, who was on the Operation Austin inquiry, asked her what she would say if Haumaha was promoted to assistant commissioner last year.
"I said 'this will come back to bite you on the arse'. And it has."
An inquiry will be held into the process that led to Haumaha's appointment.
The inquiry, to be overseen by Internal Affairs Minister and NZ First MP Tracey Martin, will look at what information the State Services Commission held about him before he was given the role.
Peters said Haumaha would not be stood down in the meantime.
"We're not going to find people guilty of anything until we find the evidence of it."
National's police spokesman Chris Bishop said his party supported an inquiry but there were clear conflicts of interest given that Haumaha was once in the running to be selected for New Zealand First.
He said "literally anyone" other than a New Zealand First MP or government minister could lead the inquiry.
National leader Simon Bridges said people expected the appointment process to be independent and non-political.
He said it was "dancing of the head of a pin" to say Haumaha was not a candidate for New Zealand First and questioned whether Martin should be overseeing it.