Talansky's announcement / It won't save Olmert
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not want to declare himself incapacitated, so as not to give Vice Prime Minister Tzipi Livni an advantage. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz did not want to declare Olmert incapacitated, so as not to set a dangerous precedent for the next attorney general and prime minister. But yesterday, someone finally stood up and dared to declare himself incapacitated: Morris Talansky.
Talansky's story has been told in English, but Olmert's, the more important one, will be told in Hebrew. In Olmert's tale, the plot runs in a predetermined direction, even if the order of the chapters changes. Thus even if Talansky gives no further testimony in Jerusalem, it will not save Olmert from being indicted.
The police promised the prosecution that the first batch of evidence against Olmert would be presented in early September. About two weeks after that, Mazuz and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador will decide whether to indict Olmert. If the police hurry, the draft indictment could be ready before Rosh Hashanah, and before the Kadima primary. If they tarry, the indictment will be postponed a little, until after the High Holidays.
The only question still open is the indictment's contents. The material on Mazuz and Lador's desks indicates that it will consist of at least two cases - Olmert's alleged double-billing for airline tickets and alleged influence-peddling in the Investments Center. If the Olmert-Talansky investigation is completed even without Talansky being cross-examined again, that will be the indictment's third section. If not, it will be presented later, alone or with one of the other cases still in the pipeline - political appointments in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, the sale of Bank Leumi, and the house on Cremieux Street.
Olmert still faces serious suspicions of bribery, about which he was questioned under caution last week in addition to suspicions of fraud and breach of trust. But prosecutors will not charge Olmert with bribery alone, for fear of an acquittal that would bring down the entire case. If he is so charged, it will be tacked on to other charges.
Talansky was careful during his testimony in Israel not to incriminate himself - or Olmert - of having given or taken bribes. But he has already admitted that he has not always told nothing but the truth, and certainly not the whole truth. He is hiding a "black box," like the one Mazuz's predecessor, Elyakim Rubinstein, suspected in the investigation against Benjamin Netanyahu in the Hebron-Bar-On affair. Talansky's is a Pandora's box, which he will not open for fear of being harmed.
Talansky has two attorneys in New York. One of them, Neal Sher, was a Nazi-hunter in the U.S. Justice Department and later director of AIPAC. He has been friendly with Talansky since the days when both were aiding Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Yesterday, as Talansky's announcement was making waves in Israel, Sher said he could not comment - he was driving to Toronto.
But the more serious attorney is Bradley Simon, a former federal prosecutor in New York, whom Talansky hired to deal with the American investigation against him. "Talansky wants to continue cooperating with the Israeli authorities," Simon told Haaretz yesterday. "But without immunity, he could incriminate himself in the United States. So we've advised him not to continue testifying at this stage."
American suspects do not appear before the grand jury that examines the prosecution's evidence and decides whether there is reason to press charges. But Talansky's silence in New York will not help him if his testimony in Jerusalem provides FBI detectives with clues to follow up.
Talansky's attorneys will not say so explicitly, but he expects the Israeli Justice Ministry to arrange comprehensive immunity for him in America. That, however, is extremely complicated, and Talansky might first have to reveal more - which would not be good news for Olmert. Another possibility is that Talansky, still a suspect in Israel, could become a defendant, with Israel seeking his extradition from the U.S. This sub-plot is far from over. But even without it, Olmert's plot line is moving to center stage.