For Katsav, Probe Has Been a Dual Failure

Not only did the president fail to convince the police, he also lost the battle for public opinion .

In the three months since President Moshe Katsav was first accused of sexual offenses and other improprieties, he has been using his attorneys and associates to fight for his innocence on two fronts: the struggle to win over the police, and the battle for public opinion.

Katsav limited his interviews with the media, so as not to interfere with the investigation or have to confront embarrassing questions. But friends and relatives - including his mother, his brother and two of his sons - gathered around him, and it was they and his lawyers, Professor David Libai and Zion Amir, who gave interviews and made comments meant to gain public support for the president, undermine the credibility of the complainants and lead the police to close the case.

But even though the president's supporters rallied around him in a media campaign of unprecedented scope for a criminal suspect, their two-pronged battle ended in a dual failure: The police did not accept Katsav's sweeping denial of wrongdoing, and in the public relations battle, his supporters kept changing their message.

A., both as the first person to accuse Katsav of sexual offenses and as a suspect in her own right for allegedly attempting to extort the president, was a key target of the Katsav team's efforts. Katsav's associates made repeated efforts to blacken A.'s name and undermine her credibility. In addition to questioning her sexual history, they told the media that five of her previous bosses had told the police that she tried to blackmail them. However, not only did the police deny these reports, but media outlets' own investigations failed to substantiate such allegations.

The Katsav team also pressured the police and prosecution to fully investigate the president's complaint that A. had demanded hundreds of thousands of shekels in exchange for her silence about the president's alleged offenses. Katsav's people were hoping that A. would not only be indicted, but would also lose credibility in the public's eyes. Instead, police said that they view A. as very credible and that there was not enough evidence to indict her, although Attorney General Menachem Mazuz could still decide to do so. The police have A.'s comments to the president on tape, but investigators said they were unable to decide whether or not they constituted extortion.

Over the past three months, Katsav's attorneys and associates have put out at least three different stories regarding the sexual allegations. At first, they argued that the investigation should focus on A.'s alleged extortion of Katsav and her apparent mental instability. Then, they told the media that A. had been chasing Katsav obsessively and decided to take revenge when he refused to respond to her overtures. Finally, when the media reported that several other women were accusing Katsav of sexual offenses, his associates charged that a political conspiracy was afoot, which they linked to Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the conspiracy theory, the current Likud leadership is trying to keep Katsav from running for party chairman when his term as president ends this summer. However, the police and Mazuz hastened to assure the public that Katsav was not being falsely accused.

Katsav started out on the wrong foot: It was he who initiated the investigation that is liable to bring his term to a premature end. He was the one who complained to Mazuz about A.'s alleged extortion. But within a few days, he had lost control of the situation. He publicly denied having turned to Mazuz, but the attorney general informed the media that Katsav had done so.

The president also had a hard time sticking to one story about the alleged extortion. At first, he told Mazuz that he was being blackmailed, but then sent a letter a few days later saying he was not sure that this was the case. Later, however, his attorneys turned the alleged extortion into the president's main line of defense.

In another few weeks, Mazuz will decide whether to indict the president, and if so, on which counts. Amir and other associates of Katsav believe that the president should resign if the attorney general decides to indict him. The police and prosecution both consider an indictment certain. In the next few days, however, the Katsav team will presumably try once more to influence the outcome by trying to persuade Mazuz not to file the most serious indictment ever submitted against a sitting public figure.