Never have anything to do with a document. Sound advice given to young lawyers as they enter a profession where documents frequently lead to the undoing of clients and colleagues.

As a successful litigator, Malcolm Turnbull knows better than most that the provenance of documents — the origin and history of ownership of file notes, emails and correspondence — is crucial to winning a legal argument. And a political one. That’s why his failure to rigorously check the voracity and authenticity of the Godwin Grech email is so curious.

The Leader of the Opposition’s mishandling of the affair suggests a lack of attention to detail, a penchant for conspiracy and a preference for politics as media melodrama, rather than reasoned debate.

The OzCar affair, intended to bring down the Prime Minister and the Federal Government, is now an informal inquiry into Turnbull’s fitness to govern.

Turnbull’s public life is a treatise to the “smoking gun” document and whistleblowing.

Turnbull made his name as a litigator in the “Spycatcher trial”. The litigation, centred around a book revealing secrets about British intelligence agency, MI5, told from a former spy. Turnbull was the young brash lawyer who fought off the British Government’s attempts to suppress the document. His public identity — and perhaps his own self-perception — is shaped by his role in the case. An outsider, getting inside, then offside, power.

Turnbull is quick to finger conspiracy because this is how he experiences politics and power.

In 2008 Four Corners revealed that Turnbull was the whistleblower who gave the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal private notes that forced Kerry Packer to withdraw from his bid for the Fairfax newspaper group. Turnbull, a former Packer employee, was part of Consortium seeking the company until a fall out with the media magnate caused him to reveal all.

The story revealed that Turnbull, in Deep-Throat disguise, hunkered down in a car and passed notes to a Tribunal employee implicating his former mate in breaches of cross media laws. He’s never denied the story.

This indelible image now looms large in the Ozcar affair.

No doubt, witnessing Grech’s painful evidence before Senate Estimates on Friday caused Turnbull to reflect on his own personal anguish dobbing in a former patron and boss. But for Turnbull his own whistleblowing experience, along with the Spycatcher trial, has skewed his judgment towards seeing everything as conspiracy. His response to the Grant email and Ozcar generally is making mountains over molehills — it looks like Pissweak-gate.

If Godwin Grech is the ultimate, hapless whistleblower — an outsider, offside with the Government — then Turnbull can rely on his role as spy litigator, the dogged advocate of the whistleblower to get him out of this mess.

But if Grech is the ultimate insider, a stooge of the Liberal party in Treasury, then Turnbull is nothing more than a co-conspirator. Whether he will be prepared to dob in colleagues and patrons within his own party to save his skin is now the real story hiding in a paper trail.