Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin demanded Tuesday that Channel 2 officially apologize and retract parts of a report aired Friday night accusing the Likud MK of ethics violations, hours after the State Comptroller's Office confirmed that both the speaker and his predecessor MK Dalia Itzik (Kadima) were being probed regarding travel expenses incurred while in office.
Rivlin's office complained that the news feature broadcast on the top-ranked prime-time show Friday Studio, presented Rivlin as "someone who brought his wife on trips against the law." Rivlin argued that there was "no basis to claims that Knesset Legal Adviser Nurit Elstein presented an opinion that spouses cannot be included on official visits." Even if there had been, Rivlin added, it was a verbal instruction that was never officially documented, and would have been issued no earlier than 2006 - after most of the incidents documented in the television show occurred.
In a strongly-worded attorney's letter, Rivlin threatened the channel with a libel suit, labeling the program as "full of lies and false facts that were designed only to ruin my good name and to present me as corrupt while ignoring the common practice that has always existed in the Knesset."
But Rivlin's letter may have come too late to save the veteran politician from the watchful eye of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.
Late Monday night, Lindenstrauss's office confirmed that it planned to probe the overseas flights of both Rivlin and Itzik, who served as Knesset speaker between Rivlin's first term and his current one. The allegations against Rivlin concern his previous term in office, which concluded following the 2006 elections. The comptroller's office added that Rivlin and Itzik were not the only politicians being examined.
On Monday, Knesset Director-General Dan Landau sent a letter to Lindenstrauss in which he defended Rivlin, questioning why there appeared to be no written documentation of Elstein's legal opinion and arguing that in fact there was precedent for the Knesset to fully fund trips by the speaker's spouse.
Landau produced a 2003 document clarifying Knesset practices regarding "rights of the Knesset speaker," in which it was written that "travel and hotel expenses of the speaker and their spouse, acting within the framework of representing the Knesset, will be fully funded by the Knesset."
Landau also included a letter from Ethics Committee chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich stating that neither she nor former committee chairman MK Haim Oron (Meretz) could find any documentation of the legal opinion allegedly offered by Elstein.
Rivlin and Elstein have had stormy relations since the Knesset's summer session. The situation came to a head in June, when Rivlin announced that he would be seeking Elstein's replacement at the earliest possible date.