Analysis: PM's lawyers just doing their job in tactical battle

All of legal team's moves so far can be justified as trying to keep the PM from being indicted.

Olmert cabinet 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert cabinet 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Ever since the new allegations against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert involving Morris Talansky arose several weeks ago, his lawyers and the state prosecution have been fighting a tactical battle and trying to gain a tactical advantage over the other side. From a legal point of view, there is nothing wrong with the conduct of Olmert's attorneys; their job is to do everything they can to prevent their client from being found guilty in a court of law. In general, within the boundaries of the law, all, or almost all, is legitimate. This is the way former president Moshe Katsav and his attorneys have fought their case. It could be said they went too far when they reneged on the plea bargain at the last minute. But they can also legitimately argue that the minute the state decided to ask the court to declare that Katsav's crimes involved moral turpitude, a matter that had not been agreed upon in the negotiations, it had changed the rules of the game. Olmert's lawyers can also make legitimate arguments for the moves they have made so far, even though all them have appeared to delay the process of the investigation. Their first move was to oppose the state's desire to question Talansky in pre-trial testimony. When the Jerusalem District Court accepted the state's request, the attorneys petitioned the Supreme Court. The move may have delayed the date of Talansky's testimony by a few days, but not much more. The court acted swiftly, fixing the date for May 25. More important, the lawyers had a point. Even the prosecution acknowledged that they would be at a disadvantage if they had to cross-examine Talansky at this point, before the investigation was over and they had been able to study all the material gathered by police. Of course, the state also had a case. It was imperative for the prosecution to question Talansky before he left Israel; it could not take the chance that he would not return and that his apparently crucial information would not be taken into account by the court. After the High Court rejected the attorneys' petition, they tried to delay Talansky's testimony by two weeks on the grounds that they needed at least that much time to prepare for cross-examination. It is true they refused to take the material offered by the prosecution on May 11, when some of it became available, and waited until after the High Court rejected its appeal on May 19 before doing so. But here, too, there was some logic to their claim that they could not take the material before the court ruled on their appeal. They explained that they did not want to be seen as having their cake and eating it too, by taking the material and fighting against the early testimony at the same time. Given their position, it was clear they would not have ample time to prepare for the cross-examination by May 25, especially since in the meantime the amount of material had increased from two folders to 20. It is not clear why Olmert took more than a week to find time to undergo a second round of questioning, and why he gave the police only one hour of his time. But his behavior had the feel of a battle for prestige or a power competition with the police more than an attempt to undermine the investigation. After all, in the end he agreed to be questioned before May 25, the original date of Talansky's testimony. Above all, all this jockeying between the lawyers and the prosecution must be seen in the larger context of the investigation. It is still going and, as far as we can tell, will go on for quite a while longer. A delay of a week or two in a sub-procedure of the investigation does not make much difference. Nevertheless, there is the question of whether the prime minister, because of his status as leader of the nation and example of proper conduct that he is supposed to exemplify, should use the same tactics that ordinary suspects use. Throughout his political career, Olmert has always talked tough and never hesitated to use power. It hasn't always helped his career or his image. That, however, is not a question for Olmert's lawyers to decide. Their job is to see to it that he is not indicted, but if he is, that he is not convicted. That's what they were trained to do and that's why they were hired. It's also what they're good at.