Katsav's lawyers to attend impeachment hearing at Knesset

Aharon Barak fears humiliation will force president to 'put a bullet in his head.'

President Moshe Katsav's lawyers capitulated to public pressure on Tuesday and announced they would attend the Knesset House Committee's discussion on impeachment procedure. Tuesday morning, Katsav's lawyers sent a letter to the Knesset announcing that they would not be attending the committee meeting on Wednesday. Following a public backlash, and accusations by MKs that the lawyers were "afraid" of attending, Katsav's office sent a second letter saying that attorney Zion Amir would attend. Katsav's lawyers described the Knesset hearing as "an outrageous kangaroo court procedure that may infringe on the president's essential rights as president and as citizen." The lawyers wrote that it is "unthinkable" to have the president "plead his case, including presenting evidence, testimonies, depositions and legal arguments before the Knesset, a body that is not entrusted with the judiciary," before he has had an opportunity to present it to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. "At this stage the Knesset members have no evidence and all they are relying on is the attorney-general's announcement that he is considering indicting the president, subject to a hearing," the lawyers wrote in the letter. The lawyers also warned that the Knesset was trying to conduct a "mock trial" which could hurt the "president's essential rights as a president and a citizen." "There are those who are being carried away by public opinion and who are also making political gains at the price of hasty and unreasonable constitutional moves," they wrote. MKs on the committee berated the lawyers' letters. "The president and his attorneys continue to show nothing but contempt for the state's elected institutions," said MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz). "The Knesset House Committee does not presume to determine whether the president is guilty or not of the acts he has been charged with, but to decide if he can continue to hold his post considering the gravity of the crimes attributed to him." The Knesset House Committee began impeachment hearings at the request of 40 MKs. According to a procedure set out several weeks ago, the committee will meet several times before conducting a vote. If 19 of 25 MKs approve the impeachment, it will go before the Knesset plenum, where 90 of 120 MKs must approve the motion. Also on Tuesday, former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak opened up on his friendship with Katsav, in an unprecedented interview to the Israel Bar newsletter,. During the swearing-in of Eliezer Rivlin as deputy Supreme Court president, Barak was spotted by journalists hugging Katsav. Katsav's presence at the ceremony caused unease among many of those present, as two weeks earlier he was absent from the swearing-in of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch because of the investigation opened against him. Barak said in the interview that he and Katsav were close friends before the investigation and that he feared Katsav would be driven to "put a bullet in his head" because of the public humiliation the investigation caused. Also in the interview, Barak flatly rejected suspicions that he used his power to bring people close to him to positions in the Supreme Court. "I never thought to bring people to the Supreme Court just because they were friends of mine. There are many screenings on each employee; I didn't personally know most of the people here before I arrived," he said.