Analyze This: 'A grave breach of acceptable norms'

By
July 23, 2008 23:31

Why leaks aren't responsible for PM's sinking fortunes.

3 minute read.



Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is much concerned these days about governmental ethics, angry and frustrated over behavior he has condemned as "a grave breach of acceptable norms." Not his own, of course. In this case, he's talking about the seeming flood of leaks from the current police investigations against him, including actual transcripts from the interrogations conducted with the prime minister during the past few months. Olmert certainly has a right to be concerned about the situation, not just from a personal perspective. The leaks undermine not only these specific investigations, but the credibility of the entire law enforcement establishment and the fundamental presumption of innocence integral to the criminal justice system of any democracy. But presumption of innocence works both ways, in this instance - that is to say, as much in the direction of the police and State Attorney's Office as it does to the targets of their investigation. That was clearly the message Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz intended to send today when he requested that anyone who had access to the leaked material - including Olmert himself and his aide Shula Zaken, and their attorneys - be willing to voluntarily submit to polygraph testing. The prime minister's lawyers and aides have naturally pointed the finger of blame in this matter straight at the police and State Attorney's Office, claiming their purpose is to force Olmert out of office without having to actually prove their allegations in court. This is surely the most logical assumption, and one that has the most precedent. For example, there is the case of state prosecutor Leora Glatt-Berkowitz, who was found guilty of leaking material to the press five years ago from one of the investigations against former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Is it plausible though, as some of Olmert's critics have now suggested, that the media received at least part of this information from sources connected to the prime minister? What possible motive could they have for making public material that, on the face of it, only makes Olmert appear evasive and suspicious in the face of police inquiries over the money he received from Morris Talansky, or the other offenses he is alleged to have committed? Well, considering the fact that the prime minister's public standing is already so low, it can hardly be said that the information which has appeared in the pages of Yediot Aharanot and Ma'ariv in recent days has significantly undermined it further. In the meantime, the leaks have given Olmert's defenders grounds to attack the credibility of the entire investigative process being directed against him. But even taking into account the fact that no criminal risk would be involved if the leaks came from the prime minister's camp, it's still far more likely to assume that their source is the police or prosecution, whose record regarding this type of behavior is indeed problematic. Still, to simply assume that is the case - as Olmert's lawyers and aides are now doing - is exactly the assumption of guilt they are fighting against on behalf of their client. And even if specific laws have not been broken, the prime minister is right to decry a "breach of acceptable norms." Unfortunately, even those actions that he has already admitted to doing in the Talansky affair can easily be said to also fall in within that definition, yet Olmert continues to insist that nothing short of a formal indictment constitutes grounds for himself being on the receiving end of similar condemnation. Leaks are a part of the normal interaction between government and media, and during his own political career Olmert was known for being the type of politician all too happy to serve as a backdoor source for certain journalists to sometimes receive information of a sensitive nature. That's a different order of things, of course, than leaking material from an active criminal investigation, and the attorney-general is thoroughly justified in pursuing this matter vigorously. If the prime minister is sincerely outraged by this issue - and not just because of his personal interests, but the larger ethical issues involved - then he should have no trouble readily agreeing to submit himself, and his lawyers and aides, to Mazuz's request for polygraph testing. And if not, that would be just another reminder that Olmert's political troubles are not the result of these leaks, but the self-inflicted damage he has already done to the sinking ship of state his government has become. [email protected]

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