Netanyahu, Mandelblit pour cold water on probe prime minister's fund-raiser

Ari Harow questioned again by police; Likud pressure on party leader builds.

Avichai Mandelblit and Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Avichai Mandelblit and Netanyahu
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit downplayed the ongoing investigation of the prime minister at the Knesset on Monday, despite the National Fraud Squad questioning Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and fund-raiser, Ari Harow, at length for the second time in five days.
Netanyahu called the investigation “hot air” and said there is “nothing at all” to the mysterious allegations against him. He urged prospective replacements not to get too excited about the probe.
Mandelblit said many press reports about the probe have been inaccurate.
“I work with the prime minister about work and speak with him about legal issues, but there is also a legal review regarding him,” said Mandelblit on Monday in describing the hard dilemma he is currently living when working with Netanyahu and probing him at the same time.
Mandelblit made the statement in his first appearance as attorney-general at the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee.
Netanyahu has been under extra scrutiny by Mandelblit and the prosecution in recent weeks over unspecified allegations that are serious enough for the attorney-general to publicly confirm there is a probe.
He discussed the dilemma in which he wears two hats as both the head of the state prosecution as well as the government’s chief legal adviser.
He admitted that “there is a downside” but added “there is nothing to do about it. You need to trust that I’ll do my job right and that he [the prime minister] will do his job right. This is a question of professionalism. When an appointment committee and the government have approved someone to be attorney-general and said we can trust them. We need to trust them.”
Along similar lines, he was asked to justify why, at this stage, he is performing only an initial review of Netanyahu and not a full criminal investigation, as well as why he has not revealed the nature of the allegations.
He said he must balance the public’s right to know what is happening with its prime minister with avoiding doing unnecessary damage to the running of the country.
Asked if he meant “damage to the image” of Netanyahu – Mandelblit shot back – “no, substantial damage” to the country.
He added that the High Court of Justice is currently reviewing the constitutionality of the initial review process as an in-between point prior to full criminal probes.
Channel 10 reported Monday that Harow was asked about new evidence of alleged wrongdoing gathered by police since his previous questioning on Thursday.
While Harow was being questioned, another former Netanyahu aide who was also involved in fund-raising was also being questioned.
Harow’s house arrest that is due to end Tuesday is expected to be extended, though there might be a break in between. He is expected to be questioned a third time soon.
The questions Harow faced reportedly focused on contributions he received for Netanyahu.
Channel 10 reported divisions among law enforcement authorities about the severity of the case against Netanyahu and Harow and said a breakthrough in the probes could happen soon.
Both Channel 10 and Channel 2 quoted police sources saying Netanyahu was correct in dismissing claims by an American blogger and repeated by two Zionist Union MKs on the Knesset floor that the probe surrounded a passport obtained by Netanyahu’s son Yair in another name.
In a question and answer session at the Knesset, Netanyahu told Likud ministers he would not be leaving office soon. At a meeting of the Likud’s law committee Sunday night, he went further, warning them to look at the walls in their offices and notice that there are parties with more pictures of former ministers than they currently have MKs.
Channel 1 reported that Netanyahu was especially angry at Transportation Minister Israel Katz for passing a series of proposals in the Likud secretariat Thursday that appeared to the prime minister to be an attempt to limit the power of the Likud chairman.
The report quoted sources close to Netanyahu alleging that “Katz is joining the Left to bring down the prime minister.” The source said Katz did not contribute to the Likud’s successful election campaign last year and that Katz convened a secret meeting five days before the election to prepare to topple the prime minister.
“He is trying to take over the party apparatus and its internal election system with bullying,” a source close to Netanyahu was quoted by the report as saying. “Likud members won’t forgive Katz for undermining a sitting Likud prime minister." 
Sources close to Katz referred to the allegations as “recycled, delusional lies” and said he maintained a professional relationship with the prime minister. The sources recalled that Katz helped organized a mass rally in Tel Aviv ahead of the election that was seen as a game changer. They said the dispute between Netanyahu and Katz about the secretariat’s proposals would be resolved professionally by legal authorities in Likud.
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.