Olmert is being judged in the court of public opinion
In the best possible light, Olmert is a crass hedonist. In the worst, there are various crimes hiding in the story.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's lawyers are right: According to the law, it is not at all clear whether there is something illegal in Olmert's dealings with his own private bank, the "Talansky Bank." It is certainly worth waiting for the cross examination on July 17. It is likely to reveal contradictions about the sums of money, or to refute a story or two like the luxurious family vacation in Italy, which Olmert's attorneys claim never happened.
But no cross examination, no matter how brilliant and effective it may be, will save the politician Ehud Olmert. It will not polish his image nor remove the stench rising from the description of his relationship with Talansky. It will never return Olmert to the days before the investigation.
Publicly, Olmert is finished. There is no going back. Talansky's initial testimony Tuesday in the Jerusalem District Court will forever hover like a toxic cloud over the prime minster, wherever he goes - until he finally goes.
That is the small difference between a newspaper headline and testimony under oath in court.
The suspicions against Ariel Sharon in the Greek Island and Cyril Kern affairs were no less serious, maybe even more so. But the Sharon investigations never reached the courtroom. And, in any case, people were willing to forgive Sharon for anything.
His heir, Olmert, is now considered politically dead. In the political arena and in his party, Kadima, he no longer counts. So what are they counting? The money hidden in the envelopes that he took, according to Talansky, well after the primary elections ended.
The story that unfolded Tuesday in the Jerusalem courtroom was a guide to the good life, Olmert-style: luxury suites, fountain pens, cigars, first-class flights and the fixer who paid for it all.
In the best possible light, Olmert is a crass hedonist. In the worst, there are various crimes hiding inside the story, which the prosecution will decide on, when it is ready. No one was ever forced out of office for hedonism, but what makes the situation unbearable is the cash, the green bills that passed from Talansky to Olmert for such a long time without being reported, without accounting and without a trace - except for what was written in Shula Zaken's diaries.
It is hard to say whether Tuesday's testimony will have immediate political effects. It is likely that it won't. Ehud Barak does not intend to quit the government in the foreseeable future, and Tzipi Livni will not quit. They will leave Olmert twisting in the wind.
Olmert's confidantes asked Tuesday what was the difference between his case and that of Benjamin Netanyahu's pleasure trips to London and Paris, which were also paid for with huge sums by various millionaires. Why, asked Olmert's friends, did Bibi get out of it cheaply, while Olmert is being pursued by the prosecution?
Sooner or later, when Olmert will be a former prime minister, he will sit at home and wonder why he needed all this disgusting trouble. But it will be too late.
He has lost the trust of his party,and more important, the public's trust. In a survey conducted last night after Talansky's testimony, 70 percent of those polled said they do not believe Olmert's version that the money he received went only for his election campaigns.
What is even worse for him, 51 percent of his own party's voters don't believe him either.