PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu – if they go to trial, how will his corruption trials end?.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
With Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s all-important report out on February 28 and US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report out last Friday, it’s time to take stock of the probes that shook two nations to their foundations.
1. Netanyahu is in deeper trouble than Trump and sooner: With the numerous parallels between the probes pursuing Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, now that the reports are out, Netanyahu unquestionably is in more serious trouble at an earlier date.
Mandelblit’s 57-page report was not just a report, but an announcement of intent to indict Netanyahu for bribery and other crimes in three separate public corruption affairs. Mandelblit has signaled that the pre-indictment hearings will start no later than July, which means that even if he wins reelection, the prime minister could be forced out of office by fall 2019 or winter 2020. True, many say that the prime minister can only be forced to resign once convicted and with all appeals exhausted, but that is not Mandelblit’s position, and is likely not the High Court of Justice’s position.
The still-undisclosed report from Mueller is not a charge sheet, but a report. The reason is that US Justice Department precedent goes against indicting a sitting president. Rather, the remedy for getting a president out of office is exclusively impeachment by the US Congress. Put simply, Netanyahu can potentially be forced out of office by a prosecutor’s indictment, but Trump cannot.
There were brief periods of time where some commentators noted that this precedent is not an enshrined congressional rule, and that Mueller could seek to indict Trump without the Justice Department’s approval. But those commentators did not understand something that both Mandelblit and Mueller have in common: a commitment to no drama and no bending the rules.
Also, the Mueller report does not seem to point a direct finger saying that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia. This is true even as it has ensnared multiple officials close to Trump – with former unofficial campaign architect Roger Stone and former campaign manager Paul Manafort being the most prominent – for narratives that would seem to match the collusion charge.
None of this means that Trump will escape indictment. There is every indication that the US Southern District Attorney’s Office will indict him for allegedly violating campaign finance laws with hush-money payments covering up alleged extramarital affairs. But they will not be able to force him out of office. So, unlike Netanyahu, he will remain in office until at least January 2021.2. Many Trump and Netanyahu lieutenants turned against their former bosses:
One of the most sensational aspects of the probes against the Israeli and US leaders has been their close confidantes who turned on them.
For Trump, the closest aides who turned against him were long-time personal-lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen and former US national security adviser Michael Flynn, though there others as well. For Netanyahu, the key closest aides who turned on him were former campaign chief and Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber and former spokesman and fixer Nir Hefetz. Former chief-of-staff Ari Harow also turned state’s witness, but there are no indications that he turned on Netanyahu like the others.
Both also have top aides who stayed loyal, at least to date. Neither Stone nor Manafort have turned on Trump since Mueller filed his report, despite Manafort facing prison time and Stone’s trial on the way. Likewise, cousin and former lawyer David Shimron, former chief-of-staff David Sharan and former envoy Yitzhak Molcho have stayed loyal to Netanyahu even as they were implicated in the “Submarine Affair.”3. The effectiveness of attacking law enforcement:
Both Trump and Netanyahu relentlessly attacked their investigators and their prosecutors until the general public has become split about whether they will trust any allegations against their leaders. Despite having to continually revise their narratives as additional former top aides cut-deals with law enforcement, Trump and Netanyahu’s mantras of “no collusion” and “there will be nothing because there is nothing” may succeed in salvaging their political fortunes, if they can beat the legal charges.4. By the book:
With all of the attacks by Netanyahu and Trump on law enforcement, Mueller and Mandelblit, the officials heading the probes, ended up trying to cut the leaders slack where they could – at least from a legal perspective. Many in law enforcement have said that Mueller could have indicted Trump with conspiracy, and that Mandelblit could have sought bribery charges in all three cases, instead of one. Both officials have also occasionally disputed anti-Netanyahu or Trump media stories which they viewed as going too far. This has meant that unlike a war-like treatment of some of those under them, both Netanyahu and Trump have, at brief points, credited Mueller and Mandelblit with fairness.5. Shooting themselves in the foot:
The Mueller probe might never have happened if Trump have not fired FBI director James Comey. Firing the FBI director was such an obvious risk of obstruction of justice that it almost guaranteed a special counsel investigation. Throughout the Mueller probe, Trump and his aides attempts to explain away new evidence that was leaked to the press invariably exposed him and them to additional charges. This was true about Trump campaign aides meeting with Russian intelligence fronts, about Trump’s continued pursuit of real estate deals in Russia far deeper into the US presidential campaign then he originally implied, and possibly illegalities connected with Trump’s inauguration organization.
Netanyahu had been scot-free of the “Submarine Affair,” Case 3000, until he extended a fight with the State Comptroller’s Office about wanting to have his legal defense costs paid by his cousin, tycoon Natan Milikovsky. This battle led the comptroller to uncover Netanyahu’s joint business interests with Milikovsky with a supplier who may have had a role in the case. As of Mueller’s report, Trump has not yet been accused of obstruction. And as of Mandelblit’s report, Netanyahu was not a suspect in the case. But their continued public campaigns against the probes against them may lead the US Southern District Attorney and Mandelblit, respectively, to come after them in the future.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>