Olmert: Katsav Must Quit; AG's Office Shocked by Attack

"In these circumstances there is no doubt in my heart that the president cannot continue to fulfill his role and must leave the President's Residence," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last night. "This is a sad day for the State of Israel."

Olmert, who made the remarks prior to delivering his speech at the Herzliya Conference, refrained from explicitly calling on President Moshe Katsav to resign.

Earlier in the day, Tzipi Livni and Avi Dichter called on Katsav to resign outright, rather than vacating his office temporarily. "From a legal standpoint," said Livni, who serves as justice and foreign minister, "Moshe Katsav the person enjoys the presumption of innocence. But given the nature of the charges, the evidence and the timing of the decision, it is more appropriate that the battle over his innocence not be waged from within the President's Residence. I therefore believe resignation is the correct thing to do," Livni said.

Katsav's attorney Prof. David Libai announced yesterday that the lawyers calling themselves "associates" of the president who are making claims about the complainants do not represent Katsav, and do not speak on his behalf. His comments came after attorney Amnon Shomron claimed that one of Katsav's accusers, a former President's Residence employee, "worked as a prostitute" in an interview with Army Radio yesterday.

Libai also distanced himself from "depositions" submitted to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ostensibly implying that the complainant received payment for sexual services.

Libai and attorney Zion Amir were not involved in writing the speech that Katsav gave last night, which the president composed without the aid of his lawyers.

No response

Officials in the attorney general's office were shocked by Katsav's denunciations of Mazuz, but refused to respond to the president's verbal assault on the prosecution and the law enforcement establishment.

Sources close to the case, however, did point out last night that in early July last year, during a meeting Katsav requested, he and the attorney general agreed to demonstrate discretion in connection with the investigation. They agreed not to discuss the contents of the meeting or even to tell the media it took place. After Channel Two news reported on the meeting, the president's bureau issued an erroneous statement stating there was nothing unusual about it. As a result, Mazuz was forced to clarify the meeting's nature.

Public Security Minister Dichter called on Katsav to apologize for casting aspersions on the country's law enforcement authorities.

"The president casted aspersions on 28,000 police officers who work around the clock to ensure the safety of the State of Israel. If the president felt that any police detectives violated his honor in the course of the investigation, he has the same right as any other citizen to submit a complaint to the Police Investigations Department, which will be examined thoroughly," Dichter said.

MK Menachem Ben Sasson (Kadima) said in response to Katsav's speech: "Even though a man should not be struck while he is down, the president's criticism of the law authorities cannot be accepted. He used a public platform to attack public servants who are unable to respond."

Education Minister Yuli Tamir called on Katsav to resign, thereby saving Israel's children and teachers from embarrassment. "It is impossible to teach students to respect the institution of the presidency and to ask that a photograph of the president be hung in every school when he has been charged with serious crimes," Tamir said.