The cabinet recommended on Sunday that Police Commissioner David Cohen be reprimanded for accusing Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann of "arrant irresponsibility" for reportedly accusing the police of effectively ousting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Associates of Friedmann say he never made the comment to which Cohen objected. They said the statement had been wrongly attributed to Friedmann in the past, but the matter had since been clarified.
Olmert called Cohen's remarks, which he made in an interview in Friday's Haaretz Magazine, "shameful," and the cabinet, in a rare move, called on Public Security Minister Avi Dichter to censure the police chief. Dichter told the cabinet he had already rebuked Cohen for his remarks.
Cohen apologized to Friedmann and the other ministers yesterday, sending them letters saying he was sorry if they were hurt by his remarks.
Cohen wrote in his apology letter that he did not mean his remarks to be taken as a critique of the workings of the cabinet, but objected to criticism of police conduct regarding investigations of government officials.
"I do not deny that I expressed my difficult thoughts and feelings, as the head of the police," Cohen said, adding he regretted "if my remarks, as reported in Haaretz, were not properly understood, especially in light of the possibility that anyone in the cabinet or its leader felt themselves hurt."
Cohen also wrote: "Damage to the police might have implications on its ability to conduct investigations where required without fear or bias."
Senior police officials were critical of the fact that ministers who have been interrogated recently were the ones who led the attack on the commissioner. "It is inconceivable that the prime minister, who is to be questioned under warning on Thursday, after the police have already recommended indicting him, should criticize in this way the organization that is investigating him," a senior officer said. The officer also said Haim Ramon, who was convicted in January of forcibly kissing a female soldier, was taking advantage of the moment to attack the commissioner.
Although Cohen's interview was not originally on the cabinet's agenda, Friedmann brought it up at the beginning of yesterday's weekly meeting. He said Cohen's remarks about the prime minister were "inappropriate because Olmert has not yet been indicted and the matter is still under discussion."
Friedmann also said that in this case, there was no question of who leaked the comment to the press because "the commissioner is standing on the rooftop shouting, 'I have something to say!'" He said Cohen had to be reminded "who is above whom."
Other ministers also objected to Cohen's comments, with Minister Ami Ayalon going as far as to say the commissioner should be fired.
Prime minister-designate Tzipi Livni said police should not publicly discuss ongoing investigations. "Police officers must not make public remarks or publish materials connected to ongoing police investigations or impair the legitimacy of the government," she said.
Finance Minister Roni Bar-On called Cohen's remarks "dangerous" and told Dichter "a white line was crossed here between his function and that of the minister."
In Cohen's Haaretz interview, he said "the justice minister cannot attack the police."
"He can talk to the commissioner or call in the head of the Investigations Branch," the police commissioner said. "But for the minister to say such things publicly is arrant irresponsibility."
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