U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to reporters before their meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem May 22, 2017..
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump try to bask in their joint glow of Trump’s recent visit, barely under the surface they are continually united by the parallel criminal probes they face that have cost them many of their key associates.
Flynn declines Senate subpoena, invokes the Fifth (credit: REUTERS)
But if Netanyahu’s situation was worse at some point, Michael Flynn exercising his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent before a bipartisan Congressional inquiry late on Monday just made Trump’s situation worse.
Netanyahu associates Ezra Seidoff, Sara Netanyahu, Gil Sheffer, Ari Harrow, Arnon Milchin, James Packer and Sheldon Adelson have all been questioned and the first four are being criminally probed.
It is far from clear that the four would be of interest to law enforcement if not for their link to the prime minister.
Likewise, Trump associates Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page are all being criminally probed and being asked to provide evidence to the Congressional inquiry.
It is also debatable how much energy would have been focused on these individuals if they were not connected to Trump.
But originally, Netanyahu was – potentially – directly implicated in the Case 1000 gifts scandal and the Case 2000 media influence scandal. And there was a perception that his associates were being pursued to turn them into state’s witnesses against them.
In contrast, none of the US leaks seemed to reveal anything hard core on Trump personally. Most reports about an investigation into alleged collusion by his campaign with Russia focused first on his aides and on him – possibly and only second – if it is found that he directed his aides to act illegally.
Trump’s situation got worse as soon as he fired FBI director Comey. That led to accusations of obstruction of justice. Trump then added fuel to the fire: He called Comey a “nutjob” to his Russian visitors; reports emerged that he asked Comey to back off the Flynn investigation; and he threatened Comey on Twitter, possibly exposing that he may have recordings of their conversations.
As a present for firing Comey, Trump received special prosecutor Robert Mueller, allowing him not even indirect influence over the probe.
In contrast, Netanyahu has faced accusations that he picked his former cabinet secretary, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, to help him on legal issues. But the conflict of interest claims were rejected by the High Court of Justice and there are no claims of obstruction against Netanyahu.
That is where the latest Flynn episode of his “taking the Fifth” signals a whole new level of trouble for Trump. Accusations of obstruction of justice may be more serious for Trump than for his associates or than claims of collusion.
Flynn’s refusal to speak to a bipartisan Congressional inquiry could just mean he is protecting himself – but it could also mean Flynn` cannot testify without implicating Trump.
In contrast, all of Netanyahu’s associates have testified numerous times to police, and none of what has been leaked from their statements is a silver bullet, let alone obstruction. And Israel does have a judicially-created right to silence similar to the US Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, but none of them used it.
Whereas most of Netanyahu’s party is probably with MK Miki Zohar – who said Monday that he would support Netanyahu staying in office even if the prime minister is indicted – Flynn has angered Congressional Republicans whose support Trump may eventually need to stay in office.
Both Netanyahu and Trump face serious legal situations, but Flynn’s move suggests that Trump’s aides, and the president’s attempts to help them, may make Trump far more vulnerable.