PM: Comptroller sets new standards for cynicism

Long simmering tension between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss boiled over in a sharply worded three-page letter Olmert sent to the Knesset Sunday, accusing Lindenstrauss of having made up his mind before he began his investigation of the government's functioning during last summer's war and of "systematic leaks" to the press. In the letter, addressed to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and Knesset State Control Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev, Olmert hinted that there may be room for criminal action against those who leaked information from the interim findings of the comptroller's report on the state of home front preparedness for the war. "Leaking a report even before it was passed on to those being investigated is a criminal offense," Olmert wrote. "How could bodies involved in auditing allow themselves to behave in this manner." What precipitated Olmert's angry response was Lindenstrauss' intention to submit the main points of his findings to the Knesset State Control Committee on Tuesday, before he a reasonable chance to respond. There is reportedly concern in the Prime Minister's Office that the report, published before the Winograd Commission publishes its interim findings, could color those findings or the public's perceptions of them. "I have restrained myself for many months regarding the continuous leaks coming from the comptroller's office," the letter read. "Numerous issues being investigated by the comptroller are leaked in a systematic manner by the comptroller's office to journalists, who admit this publicly." He said that in the current case the content of the report front was leaked before it was brought to the government, to the prime minister, cabinet ministers, security establishment, IDF, police or municipal authorities. Olmert wrote that the manner in which Lindenstrauss put together this report "set a new record for cynicism" and was far beneath the standards of the comptroller's office. Olmert wrote that he received a request to prepare to appear before the comptroller on December 25 - the first time that the comptroller has ever asked a prime minister to appear before him. He wrote that he replied that Lindenstrauss should send questions, to which he would reply, and that if the comptroller found the answers insufficient, he could either ask again for written responses or they could meet. Olmert wrote that he did not receive the questions until January 31. "To my astonishment, the time that was given to respond was less than two weeks." He said that although the comptroller agreed to extend this by another two and a half weeks, it was not nearly enough time to deal with such a complicated matter, which would necessitate looking at government records dating back to 2000. He noted that a mere six days after he received the request for responses, Lindenstrauss appeared before the State Control Committee and said that the period of collecting information had ended. "The comptroller did not even wait for my answers on this issue," he said. Olmert hinted that the reason that Lindenstrauss did not want to wait until he received the responses was that he wanted to put out his report before the Winograd Committee investigating the war in Lebanon issued its interim report. "The urgency in which the comptroller is convening the committee, and things he is saying or that are being said in his name in the media as if another war is about to take place are sowing the seeds of panic among the public," Olmert wrote. "Why is there a need to panic the public unnecessarily, as if there will be a war in a few days. Where is this pretense to establish such an unnecessary and damaging fact coming from? Matters of state security should be treated with reason and careful consideration." Olmert wrote that he felt Lindenstrauss' mind was already made up before he began investigating the issue. "Unfortunately, I must say that this is going through the motions of investigation, but it is not true investigation." Olmert said he should have the right - as should the other relevant governmental and military agencies - to respond before the report is published. "I demand from the comptroller's office at least the appearance that the responses that these bodies provide will be taken into account in drawing up the findings in this important matter," he wrote. Olmert concluded by saying that he did not see any reason for the State Control Committee to meet on this matter on Tuesday, and that the comptroller should send the draft of his report to the relevant bodies and give them fair time to respond before publishing his findings.