Nationals officials were warned of an impending "avalanche of allegations" about Barnaby Joyce and were expecting so many women to complain some MPs considered asking a former governor to hold an inquiry.
New documents obtained by Fairfax Media show former WA Nationals leader Terry Redman delivered the warning days before a formal complaint against Mr Joyce was actually lodged, forcing the former deputy prime minister's resignation from cabinet.
Catherine Marriott, the woman who made the confidential complaint over an alleged incident involving Mr Joyce outside a Canberra hotel in 2017, blasted the Nationals for mismanaging the investigation. The former WA Rural Woman of the Year on Wednesday claimed the review had been used for "political advantage", had brought her integrity into question, and could stop other women coming forward.
The WA Nationals' handling of the complaint has become the subject of fierce disagreement within the party. Some members believe the complaint was used to bring down Mr Joyce after news of his affair with former staffer Vikki Campion triggered weeks of damaging headlines. Mismanagement of the complaint also led to Ms Marriott's name being published by newspapers just days after it was lodged.
In a secret review examining how Ms Marriott's identity was leaked to the media, WA Nationals state president James Haywood outlines a series of previously unknown phone calls and text messages between party officials, MPs and Mr Joyce himself.
In one part of the report, Mr Haywood recounts how Mr Redman told him by phone on Saturday, February 17 that a flood of claims were expected to be made by a group of regional women against the embattled federal leader.
"Terry told me there would be an avalanche of allegations made from this group against Barnaby and that there were as many as 10 complaints which ranged from inappropriate behaviour to more serious allegations," Mr Haywood wrote.
He went on to question a statement from Mr Redman, a serving MP, that he would stand by the group of women if the allegations went public.
"It seems to me that our politicians should not be taking sides in what is a potential legal matter between parties or a dispute in facts about what may or may not have happened."
Fairfax Media revealed on Wednesday that Mr Haywood's review also criticised the role of WA Nationals leader Mia Davies - a friend of Ms Marriott's - in the downfall of Mr Joyce
According to the new documents, Mr Haywood was told that Ms Davies, Mr Redman and fellow WA MP Jacqui Boydell suggested former state governor and barrister Malcolm McCusker "lead an enquiry [sic] and to facilitate all of the allegations this group wanted to make against Barnaby".
The idea, which was raised a week before Mr Joyce resigned, never eventuated. Ms Marriott's complaint is now being investigated by the executive of the party's NSW branch.
The substance of the allegations is not known, however Mr Haywood said he had asked whether Mr Joyce's alleged behaviour was criminal but was told "it was probably more of a serious claim of inappropriate behaviour". Several sentences discussing the complaint have been redacted.
Mr Joyce has previously denied the allegations, and on Wednesday described the suggestion of 10 potential complainants as "patently absurd".
"These allegations are spurious and defamatory," he told Fairfax Media.
"Allegations of any wrongdoing should be immediately referred to the police so that the veracity of the claim can be properly tested."
The full review by Mr Haywood shows serious discontent over the conduct of Ms Davies, who is now clinging to her job in the aftermath of her handling of the episode and, critically, her public demand for Mr Joyce to resign.
Ms Davies is friends with Ms Marriott, and is understood to have met with a woman supporting her prior to the formal complaint being lodged.
Mr Haywood accused Ms Davies of weighing "the request of the alleged victim for confidentiality against the need for political manoeuvring and determined the political advantage was paramount."
"The decision clearly compromised the victim's request for confidentiality and increased the risk of the existence of the allegation getting out," Mr Haywood concluded.
He also predicted the scandal could cost the WA Nationals any chance of picking up a Senate seat at the next federal election.
"This has been one of the most serious incidents in the life of our party and how it has been handled will be the subject of intense scrutiny," he wrote.
Ms Marriott broke her silence on Wednesday, slamming the Nationals for divulging her complaint and identity.
"I am disappointed if my complaint, along with my efforts to have this confidentially investigated are being used for political advantage and my integrity as a result, questioned," she said through a public relations firm.
Ms Marriott said the WA Nationals played "no role whatsoever" in her decision to make the complaint, or hire a media adviser.
"I never wanted this issue made public," she said, adding that neither did she want Mr Joyce's identity revealed in relation to it. "I specifically requested a private and confidential investigation. My complaint was made to the National Party in a manner that was meant to protect the privacy of the person involved and I was assured confidentiality."
Some Nationals loyal to Mr Joyce are livid at the timing of the complaint and believe the formalisation of it several months after the alleged Canberra incident was used to force Mr Joyce out of his job.
Ms Marriott's complaint was lodged on February 20, the same day Ms Davies shocked the party by becoming the first senior figure to call for Mr Joyce's scalp.
The review called the timing of the allegations "at best unfortunate and at worst opportunistic".
However, speaking to ABC regional radio on Thursday morning as the controvery raged, Ms Davies said claims of a concerted effort against Mr Joyce designed to force his hand were a fiction.
"The notion that there was any conspiracy or discussion or any premeditated discussion around trying to get her (Ms Marriott) to make that complaint, or for us to concoct something that would lead to Barnaby Joyce stepping down, is ridiculous," Ms Davies said.