The Investigations / The Cost of Miscalculation

Ehud Olmert admitted last night that his gamble had failed. As usual, he was incapable of actually telling the truth, but the meaning was clear: The confusion that he himself created between the public and the legal tracks had worked to his detriment rather than his benefit.

Olmert tried to create the impression that the growing likelihood of an indictment is what toppled him. In his version, a few evil people conspired to oust him. But that is utterly false. The only person who endowed the putative indictment with the power to force him to resign was Olmert himself, with his public statement three months ago that "I never took a penny for myself."

The law requires a prime minister to resign only three months after a district court has convicted him of a crime involving moral turpitude. Thus an attorney general who signs an indictment against a premier is not setting the seal on his ouster; he is merely sending the issue on to the next station. But Olmert was familiar with the weakness that Menachem Mazuz had demonstrated in previous cases, so he doubled the bet: He persuaded the politicians to keep quiet and await Mazuz's decision, and when the moment for this decision came, he intended to intimidate Mazuz.

But this calculation ignored a long list of factors. One was the many tracks his alleged crimes had left, in Shula Zaken's computer and in the archives of the Rishon Tours travel agency. Another was the decision by senior law enforcement officials to keep the investigation under wraps until Olmert had been questioned, so that he would incriminate himself by telling lies. And finally, there was Morris Talansky's deposition, which placed a heavy burden on the politicians: If they did not repudiate Olmert, they, too, would be stigmatized as corrupt. Instead of the legal and political tracks diverging, as Olmert had hoped, they began converging.

Tomorrow, Olmert is due to be questioned again. Three weeks later, the police are expected to finish reviewing the evidence and pass it on the prosecution with a recommendation to indict Olmert and Zaken. Olmert will not be able to claim that he put an end to his political career by deciding not to run in the Kadima primary; he will leave under the cloud of a draft indictment. His hope that Mazuz would save him has proven vain: Olmert, by blinking first, has instead saved Mazuz.

Olmert is being kicked out, suspected of aggravated fraud and receiving illicit funds. In the end, it is the criminal investigations, not the castrated investigation into a failed war, that will remove him from the office he reached by accident, thanks to Silvan Shalom's refusal to trade the Finance Ministry for the title of vice premier. Thus even before he stands on trial, justice has been done: Olmert is now paying all the debts of his past, which he accumulated through cupidity, hedonism and forgetfulness about the minor distinction between the public purse and his private one.

After Brig. Gen. Rami Dotan was convicted, his picture disappeared from the portrait gallery for former heads of the air force's procurement division. It will be hard to similarly erase Olmert from Israel's history, even if he is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. But it is permissible to be ashamed of him and to bar him, by legislation, from being buried in the section of Mount Herzl Cemetery that is reserved for the nation's leaders.

The investigations of Olmert were begun by the state comptroller before he was elected prime minister, and they will continue after he leaves office. After all the mud he hurled at complainants, witnesses, policemen and prosecutors, it is alluring to imagine the headline: "Ma'asiyahu Prison commander: Olmert did not stand up to be counted."