By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian Senate suspended three of its members for "gross negligence" on Tuesday in a scandal over expense claims that has damaged the reputation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Conservative majority in the unelected Senate voted for the two-year suspensions without pay as Harper's office tried to deflect charges it was more deeply involved in the scandal than it initially admitted.
A Senate committee ruled that the three Conservative appointees - Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau - had claimed housing and other expenses to which they were not entitled.
All three say they were simply following Senate rules and are being suspended without due process. They are also all under criminal investigation by the police, but no charges have been laid.
The Canadian Senate does not have the power of its U.S. counterpart, because the senators are appointed by the prime minister. But its formal support is still required for legislation that passes the elected lower chamber, the House of Commons.
Fallout from the scandal reached Harper's office over the summer after the Conservative prime minister's then-chief of staff, Nigel Wright, gave Duffy C$90,000 ($86,000) of his own money to help him pay his expenses back.
Duffy says the prime minister's office hatched a plan to cover that up. Duffy admitted in the Senate last week that he had taken part in that "dirty scheme" and used false cover-up lines emailed to him by the prime minister's office.
In a letter released to the media on Tuesday, police asked Duffy's lawyer for copies of emails and other documentation about those allegations, which it said "may potentially be evidence of criminal wrongdoing by others."
Harper's office says it is assisting the RCMP in providing any information it requires.
Harper has repeatedly said Wright, who has since resigned, had acted without his knowledge or approval. But the opposition has questioned Harper's credibility and the Conservatives have lost support in the polls.
(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)