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Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's First Sitting Prime Minister Facing Criminal Indictment; Ronen Bergman, Investigative Journalist, is Interviewed About Netanyahu's Indictment; Yohanan Plesner, President, Israel Democracy Institute, is Interviewed About Netanyahu's Indictment. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired November 21, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Big, breaking news in Israel today. Benjamin Netanyahu is to become Israel's first sitting prime minister to face a criminal indictment.
Charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust were just announced by Israel's attorney general.
Netanyahu is being accused in three different corruption cases, but he denies any wrongdoing, this as Israel is in the midst of political turmoil.
Two rounds of elections in six months and still no government in place.
With me now from Tel Aviv is Israel's premier investigative reporter, Ronen Bergman.
Ronen, welcome to the program.
RONEN BERGMAN, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Can you tell us exactly, legally, what's happened? The attorney general has gone on television to publicly announce what will happen. Does
that mean the indictments haven't formally been handed down yet?
BERGMAN: They will be handed over tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, but it's imminent. The attorney general has already informed the public back
in February that he is going to do that, but he has waited until the attorneys for the prime minister laid in front of him their claims why he
And now, we know that he did not accept any of their claims. And what he is going to submit to the district court, probably in Jerusalem, tomorrow
is identical to what he thought in the beginning. He believes that they were wrong, he is right, and Netanyahu is going to be charged in three very
severe cases in multiple bribery and, as you said, breach of trust and fraud in these three cases, and this is going to be happening tomorrow.
And of course, just accelerating the constitutional and political crisis in which Israel stands today.
AMANPOUR: So, let's just take a little step here. Not so long ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu celebrated overtaking even Israel's founding father, Ben
Gurion, as the longest serving Israeli prime minister. And now, he has, you know, added another distinction in becoming the first to be indicted,
soon to be.
Can you describe to us, first and foremost, the cases, because they involve, you know, quid pro quo with a newspaper publisher, they involve
accepting gifts, they involve all sorts of things, which he denies, but those are the cases in question?
BERGMAN: Right. So, there are three cases. The case called case 1,000. That's the code name by the police, is where he and his wife asked and
received precious gifts, mainly cigars, jewelry and pink champagne, from the two billionaires, Arnold Milchan and James Packer in return for Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taking care as the prime minister to the personal interests of Mr. Milchan. In that case, he is indicted in fraud
and breach of trust. These are two offenses, serious offenses against a civil servant in Israel which are aimed to prevent the civil servants from
giving -- or asked or being given any kind of personal benefit to their job.
The second case, case 2,000, is based on recordings of offer of bribery from the owner of the biggest paper in Israel, "Yedioth Ahronoth," Noni
Moses to Benjamin Netanyahu and the discussions between them, how Mr. Moses will completely flip the coverage in his paper in favor of Netanyahu.
"Yedioth Ahronoth" for a very long time was running sort of a hostile or negative approach to Netanyahu.
And in return, Mr. Netanyahu promised that he will diminish the circulation of the other rival daily paper, "Israel Today," owned by Sheldon Adelson.
In that case, bribery was not received by Netanyahu because he was not acting to implement, but he was conducting the conversations, and he gave
Mr. Moses the impression as if he is going to do that. So, he is, again, being indicted in fraud and breach of trust.
The most serious case, case 4,000, is his conversation with one of the major media tycoons in Israel, someone called Alovich, who owns one of the
main media and communication companies in Israel, in return for a brutal intervention of Mr. Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah Netanyahu, in the
coverage of the whole political system, not just in favor of Mr. Netanyahu, not just dictating to that news website called, "Walla," what to say, when
to say, how to cover Mr. Netanyahu during the election, but also to tell them how to cover his opponent, not just from the left, but how to severely
attack his rivals from the right in order to diminish power and therefore, help Mr. Netanyahu.
And in return, the attorney general is accusing Mr. Alovich of [13:05:00] of receiving bribe in sense of beneficial legal benefits in hundreds, maybe
billions of shekels. This is the most important case in which Netanyahu is charged in giving bribe.
AMANPOUR: OK. Ronen, this is an extraordinary thing to happen right now, particularly as it's this -- you know, these allegations coming at the same
time as his closest political friend, really, in the world, President Donald Trump, is undergoing, you know, his own trial by Congress at the
moment, whether they come up with impeachment articles or not.
So, everybody wants to know, first and foremost, what does Israel's system say about whether a prime minister, of course, this is an unprecedented
situation, who faces such criminal charges can continue as prime minister or even leader of the party, given, as you mentioned, a constitutional
crisis with no government in place, and he wants to contest another election. What is going to happen?
BERGMAN: Yes. So, first, this is a very sad day for Israel. First, acting prime minister is charged in such, in anything, and especially in
these severe acts, and also, a very personal tragedy for Netanyahu, because the people who turned state witness against him are all people he appointed
and the police commissioner who ran the investigation and the attorney general are all his own people, which he appointed and fought to be taking
Now, to your question, the legal situation is not clear because it never happened in the past and it's going to be up to the attorney general, maybe
the president, to decide if they are able or they will enable Mr. Netanyahu to run again. We will probably have third election coming soon. And the
political system may be someone from the Likud. I don't think it's highly likely.
The Likud, the party of Mr. Netanyahu, will say, that's enough. I challenge Mr. Netanyahu. I call you to go home and fight your legal wars
now that you need to go to court. You cannot run this government. You cannot run this state anymore. And I will take the Likud from now. If
that happens in where we are now, where elections are not yet called, then the new head of the Likud, when it's not Netanyahu, could seriously
negotiate a unity government with the main opposition, Blue and White, Benny Gantz, leader.
AMANPOUR: So, let's just drill down on that, because one of the main leaders in the Plue and White Party, Yair Lapid has said that these
impending indictments, these charges, means that Netanyahu cannot, must not, should not remain in power and certainly, should not lead his party to
We just talked about the possibilities of how he might be shunned aside or not. But do you think -- I mean, I think you said you doubted whether
Likud would push aside this leader under charge and then form a coalition or a unity government, rather, with Blue and White. Do you think that's a
BERGMAN: Well, Netanyahu is going to give a statement in 25 minutes. I believe that he is not going to say, I resign, and I'm going to dedicate my
life to my family and the court fight I need to go to now. He will probably, again, try to undermine the legal system, he will attack the
attorney general, then he will say, I am here, I am the prime minister and I will continue to be the prime minister. And therefore, signal to anyone
from his party that he will not tolerate any attempt to rebel against his authority.
The legal situation is not clear. My assessment is that Netanyahu finish his time in -- as the leader of Israel, and it will take not weeks but
maybe a few months, not more, when he will be forced to step down. It's just too much now --
BERGMAN: -- for him to take and someone will take him out soon and take his place very soon.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you then, because that goes to the heart of Israel/U.S. relations, Israel relations with the rest of the world and the
peace process. As you've seen and as we've all been reporting, the Trump administration has progressively rolled back decades of U.S. policy on the
two-state solution, on the international law regarding the illegality of settlements on the occupied West Bank.
You just heard Secretary of State Pompeo a few days ago saying, "We don't think Israeli settlements on the West Bank necessarily violate
international law." So, they're disrupting, as I said, decades of international policy on how to have peace in your region. If Bibi,
[13:10:00] Benjamin Netanyahu, who is no longer on the stage, how would that affect the peace process and U.S./Israel relations?
BERGMAN: Well, it's clear that apparently what or apparently, that what the American administration is trying to do is support Mr. Netanyahu, and
as in previous elections, he accepted the Israeli right and sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Now, they are saying that what Israel is doing in
these settlements is legal and not illegal as all institutional, constitutional and United Nation entities has declared.
I think that it depends on who would be the next prime minister. If it be someone from the Likud, still his base, would be the right-wing and the
ultra-right-wing, so he will probably continue with the same sort of policy. If it's Benny Gantz, then we are talking about something totally
Netanyahu aligned himself with President Trump. The next prime minister maybe not so. And then we are talking about a totally different game. But
what the U.S. administration has done was not just destroy U.S. foreign policy of decades, but they also now are not considered to be an honest
broker in the Middle East. The Palestinians would not take them to mediate with Israel. Nobody sees them as an honest broker or as a superpower in
the Middle East.
So, if Benny Gantz is the prime minister, I think he will need to have, you know, some sort of thinking out of the box who could be the one replacing
the United States, at least under --
BERGMAN: -- the current administration, replacing the United States in mediating the next peace process with the Palestinian people in Shalah,
bringing peace to this region.
AMANPOUR: So many unanswered questions but so much to keep an eye on. Israel's top investigative reporter, Ronen Bergman, thank you so much for
BERGMAN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And we are going to take a quick break. Much more on this breaking story in just a moment.
LYNDA KINKADE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: I'm Lynda Kinkade. We have some breaking news. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, facing charges
over corruption. He has just spoken. We're going to get those comments and bring those to you shortly.
Of course, he is the first prime minister to indictment while in office. The charges include fraud, bribery and a breach of trust. All along, he
has denied any wrongdoing and he is expected to speak again soon.
Israel's attorney general, moments ago, announced the charges and he called it a very sad [13:15:00] and a tough day. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AVICHAI MANDELBLIT, ISRAELI ATTORNEY GENERAL (through translator): The decision to indict him was taken with a very heavy heart. And yet, I'm
very peach with my decision. In the interest of the public and the citizens of Israel.
To obey the law is not a choice and it's not the amount of politics, this is a duty that everybody has to obey to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KINKADE: Well, our Oren Liebermann is covering these developments and joins us from Jerusalem. And this is certainly a significant day for
Israel. As the attorney general said, it's a very sad day, and he didn't come to this decision lightly.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has worked with Netanyahu for years, went through a lengthy
explanation, first how difficult it was to come to this conclusion, but second, how hard he worked, how hard investigators worked, and how serious
he thought this decision was, based on the law and the good of the state of Israel.
His duties, he felt, as attorney general. He says he worked on this for months as well as hours-long discussions with prosecutors, with
investigators to come to this conclusion over an investigation that became officially a criminal investigation nearly three years ago. So, this has
not been a quick process. And it's worth pointing out, that Mandelblit has frequently been criticized for how long the process has taken to get to
this point, and the process is, by no means, over.
Mandelblit has unveiled the charges, but they can't be formally filed until there is a functioning Knesset, until Israel's political deadlock is
broken, and that, in it of itself, could take a long time. So, this process is long, it is drawn out. And at its center, of course, is Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And this is a historic day, it is significant day, the first time in Israel's history that a sitting prime minister faces
This already on the background of Israel's unprecedented political situation, where now Netanyahu and his rival, former chief of staff have
failed to form a government. And for the first time ever, Israel is in essentially a 21-day period of a free for all, where any members of the
Knesset can try to rally support behind them, get the necessary support and be prime minister.
I suspect part of what we'll hear very shortly from Netanyahu is an attempt to keep his right-wing bloc, consisting of the religious Zionist parties
and Ultra-Orthodox parties, united behind him. That will at least give him an opportunity to hold onto his position at least in the foreseeable future
as Israel's political deadlock holds, and that will be the defining tone I very much expect to hear from Netanyahu.
We should look at his statement from two perspectives. One, of course, the political that we've talked about. And because Israel is likely headed for
another election, look at this as a campaign speech. The other, of course, especially given the situation we're in, is the legal angle from which to
view what Netanyahu is about to say.
He is, of course, now a defendant. He has been a suspect for quite some time now, but even though charges haven't formally been filed, Netanyahu
faces indictment on charges of bribery, the most serious charge, as well as charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate investigations, and
that, no doubt, is a significant statement.
I want to read a statement we've gotten here, and by all means, Lynda, interrupt at any point if Netanyahu starts to speak. But one of the key
reasons we're in this political deadlock is because the potential kingmaker, former defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, refused to back
Netanyahu and refused to back Gantz.
He just tweeted a short time ago and I'll read you his tweet. It simply says, "A difficult day for the State of Israel. We have to give the mills
of justice time to do their job and give the prime minister the opportunity to prove his innocence in court." It doesn't really say what way Lieberman
is leading, whether it's for or against Netanyahu, but there is no doubt it is because of Lieberman, because of the decisions he's made, that Netanyahu
is not hanging on or has not retained his position as prime minister with a functioning government.
So, Lieberman essentially adding in his two cents in, but that certainly doesn't sound like a statement of somebody throwing their support behind
Netanyahu. And that's what we're looking for, does Netanyahu still have the support of the right-wing bloc that has, at least, to this point since
the last election and even before that, unified behind him? That will be part of who he's addressing here as he tries to hold onto that, the rest,
the Israeli public, as he tries to essentially convince them, I would suspect, that these investigations aren't worth anything, that the
investigations will be closed and that he is not guilty in the end.
KINKADE: Oren Liebermann, just standby for us in Jerusalem. Good to have you there.
I want to bring in our CNN global affairs analyst, Aaron David Miller, now for more on all of this.
Of course, Benjamin Netanyahu has been in office as prime minister now for over a decade. Certainly, he has delivered on keeping Israel safe and
prosperous. Is that enough now, given the severity of the charges he faces?
AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I don't think so. But as I pointed out earlier, Lynda, Benjamin Netanyahu has had many different
[13:20:00] lives. And having known and worked with him on and off over the course of the last 25 years, his conviction and determination to stay in
power tethered to what he believes, we may have agreements, for sure, on one of the best national interests for the State of Israel, is the
overriding mission of his life.
And as a consequence, I think what you'll hear in this press conference, probably, you know, questions, but a determined statement pitch. I think
he is right not only to his right-wing supporters, religious parties as well as the basic Likud, but to the public of Israel. He'll claim that
he's being smeared, it's unfair, Mandelblit has political motives. None of it I think in the end, frankly, is going to work.
And I don't want to compare the situations that we face here with Israel's travails. But in a way, this is a victory also for the institutions of the
state, the judicial system, prosecutor and the attorney general. And frankly, that's critically important for any democratic polity. And I
think that cannot be overlooked, as well as those elements in the media who helped to reveal some of the evidence, which presumably will lead to formal
charges for the first time in Israel's history in the sitting prime minister.
KINKADE: It certainly is. And you raised a good point, Aaron. I just want to bring back Oren on that point, because the person that we heard
from just a short time ago, the attorney general, of course, was hand- picked by Netanyahu to be the attorney general. He is a former cabinet minister.
Given that Netanyahu has argued that this corruption inquiry is politically motivated, is it much harder for him to make, I guess that argument now,
given the person bringing about these charges?
LIEBERMANN: Well, I just want to point out, he was cabinet secretary under Netanyahu, not a cabinet minister. But the point still remains, he was
Netanyahu's pick for attorney general. He worked hand in hand with Netanyahu for years, and that seems a pretty valid point or at least a
strong point as to why this isn't politically motivated. This is somebody who was Netanyahu's pick for the position.
But I would suggest that Netanyahu when he makes this accusation isn't speaking to his partner, somebody he sat with and worked with over the
course of the years, instead, he's speaking to his voter base. And as long as he can convince them that this was a politically motivated witch hunt,
which is the line of attack he's used, that's the support he's looking for, not for the attorney general he picked to suddenly change his mind and
throw his weight behind him. That, as is very, very clear at this point, isn't about to happen.
Mandelblit has sat next to Netanyahu in cabinet meeting. He's advised him on legal issues. He's advised him on the process of declaring war. The
State of Israel had to carry out military actions. All these are without a doubt significant decisions where the two of them worked closely together,
as is required by their positions.
At the same time, Mandelblit had to conduct these investigations. He is the only one by Israeli law allowed to do investigate the prime minister
and to authorize the investigations, and that's how we got to this point. Mandelblit spent quite a bit of time in his 20 or 25-minute statement
defending not only his work, but investigators and prosecutors and police, from the attacks we've seen.
He said all of the conspiracy theories that have been launched are baseless. They work with nothing but professional considerations in mind.
He emphasized how much time he took on all of these decisions. At the end of the day, he says it was his duty to uphold the law, uphold essentially
the -- his obligation to uphold the State of Israel and the legal process therein. That is why he came to this decision, a decision, he said, that
is a very sad day for Israel.
KINKADE: Certainly, it was. His key statement off the top a very sad day for Israel. Oren Liebermann, just stand by for us. I want to bring in
Yohanan Plesner who joins us now from Los Angeles. He is the president of the Israeli Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.
Good to have you with us.
YOHANAN PLESNER, PRESIDENT, ISRAEL DEMOCRACY INSTITUTE: Thanks for having me.
KINKADE: Give us a sense of how you think Israelis will view this as it plays out, given this corruption probe has now been going on for three
years. And of course, Benjamin Netanyahu has been in office for a decade. What are his supporters and people in Israel and Israelis in general going
to think of this?
PLESNER: Well, Israelis are not happy today. It's an unfortunate situation, unprecedented. Never did we have in our history an incumbent
prime minister who is going to be indicted. So, it's a new situation. We are entering uncharted territories both legally and politically and in
terms of public opinion.
At the same time, what we've seen consistently over the past [13:25:00] few years is that a broad majority of Israelis think that a prime minister
cannot continue to serve after a final decision to indict him. So, this has been the consistent view of a majority of Israelis. Probably the prime
minister will try to effect public opinion and change that. But we have seen that it is consistent and normatively it also makes sense. The prime
minister cannot be in charge of institutions of a rule of law, he cannot appoint the next state prosecutor, he cannot appoint the next attorney
general while he's confronting them in court and trying to clear his name.
KINKADE: If you could stand by for us, I want to bring back Oren on that point.
Oren, from the people you've been speaking to in Jerusalem as this all plays out, are people worried about the damage this could do to the
LIEBERMANN: At this point, I don't think anyone's happy, as Yohanan pointed out, with the state the country is in now. And it's worth pointing
out that Netanyahu is not the only prime minister to have faced criminal investigations. Yes, at this point, he is the only sitting prime minister
to face an indictment, but every prime minister in the last 20 years or so in Israel has been investigated criminally.
So, this is a tradition, sort of, in Israeli politics and certainly not in the good way. Are Israelis worried about this? I would suspect that
depends to a large extent on what side you're on. If you're pro-Netanyahu, and we've already seen pro-Netanyahu protesters gather near the prime
minister's office, which isn't actually that far from where we are right now, to them, this is a sham, this is a shame on the State of Israel, only
because they believe it never should have gotten to this point. Where others believe that it's a disgrace, it's disgraceful that Israel's at this
point, that Netanyahu hasn't stepped down at this point. Those, of course, are the people who don't support Netanyahu.
There is no way from which this looks good upon Israel from outside of the country, I would say. And that, of course, is something Israel has to deal
with, because this process isn't ending quickly, and I suspect it's not ending in a pretty fashion.
KINKADE: It certainly isn't. And we are standing by for Prime Minister Netanyahu to make his comments and respond to the attorney general's
statement, which you heard about an hour ago.
Yohanan Plesner, I just want to come back to you because you are an Israeli politician, you've been part of the Knesset. Explain your view of what we
are seeing now in Israel, this political stalemate where there have been two elections in less than 12 months and there said to be a third very
PLESNER: Well, we still don't know if there's going to be a third election. There's a high likelihood that we will enter a third election
campaign. Look, it's a unique situation, both politically and legally. We never had a situation whereby after a general election a government was not
formed. Now, it's two general elections and no government, and we never had a situation of an incumbent prime minister being indicted. And both
obviously are closely linked.
The political crisis is closely linked to the prime minister's personal legal crisis. At the same time, I think this is a sign of strength of our
law enforcement institutions. Aaron Miller mentioned it before, there are very few democracies in the world that can take pride in such independent
law enforcement institutions that have the authority and the courage to indict an incumbent prime minister for the past decade and the most
dominant politician in such severe charges. So, I think it's also a source of pride for Israeli democracy.
Now, politically, what will really, I think, affect things going forward are two elements. Number one, how will the Supreme Court interpret the
applications implications of can a prime minister continue to serve under indictment? There is legal ambiguity around that question. And number,
how will public opinion respond to that?
If we will see a consistent two-thirds majority of Israelis who do not think the prime minister can serve under an indictment, if for sure, and no
doubt will have political repercussions. And I think the main struggle of the prime minister now will be to preserve his popularity and to persuade
his own political base that those -- that this indictment is politically motivated, and therefore, he needs to stay on.
KINKADE: Yes. As you say, the real test will be if there is another election and how political -- how public opinion has been swayed by all of
this. I just want to bring in a statement we've got from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political opponent, Benny Gantz, who is[13:30:00]
responding to this. He is obviously from the Blue and White Party.
He says: "A prime minister up to his neck in corruption allegations has no moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions for the state of Israel.
Whether or not the charges prove to be true or without merit, there are concerns that Netanyahu will make decisions in his own personal interests
and for his political survival, and not in the national interests."
So, Yohanan, how do you think Benny Gantz will capitalize on these charges that are expected to be laid?
PLESNER: Well, obviously, it does not assist the prime minister in Israeli public opinion.
There is a major, major question mark on whether one can continue to be prime minister and at the same time be in charge and oversee the very law
enforcement institutions that are confronting you in court.
And we have seen that the prime minister so far has been attacking those law enforcement institutions. So, it's an anomaly that cannot continue and
will not help the prime minister politically.
So, on the one hand, one would say that it's in the prime minister's interests to have another election, because that will delay the actual --
the legal process and will keep him prime minister. At the same time, another election campaign will mean that the prime minister will face the
verdict of the Israeli public.
And the Israeli public has, by and large, quite high levels of trust in our judicial institutions. And, therefore, it will be difficult for the prime
minister to persuade a large enough group of Israelis that all of this is just a political ploy.
KINKADE: Do you think the prime minister's advisers right now would be encouraging him to stand down? What sort of advice do you think he would
PLESNER: Well, that's a good question.
If he had asked my advice, I would have advised him to stand aside and go and try to clear his name in court, though this is just an indictment.
It's not a verdict. And he should have his time of day in court and prove his innocence. And I hope he will come out of it.
Politically, I think the prime minister thinks that it will be easier for him to deal with those allegations from the position of prime minister,
from the position of the person that will appoint the next attorney general and that will be in charge of legislation in the Knesset and so on.
So, if we're judging Netanyahu based on our recent history, he would not take my advice to step aside, but he would, rather, try to solidify his
political base, solidify his base in public opinion, and continue the struggle from the position of prime minister.
KINKADE: Yohanan Plesner, if you're able to -- it's really good to get your analysis. If you are able to stand by for us, that would be great.
We are, of course, awaiting the comments from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and we will bring you those statements as it happens.
That is a live camera of the podium where Israel's prime minister, who is facing, very serious charges, of bribery, breach of trust, and fraud.
We're going to bring you that press conference live as soon as it happens.
For now, I want to bring in our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, to weigh in on all of this and what this means for Israel and
particularly its relationship with the United States, Nic, because President Trump here in the U.S. has certainly been a strong supporter of
Benjamin Netanyahu, and it appears they have had a pretty good friendship over the last few years.
How do you think these charges are going to impact that relationship?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, I think one of the effective, very effective skills of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
has been able to leverage that relationship to get much of what he wanted out of that relationship with President Trump, to the point of, you know,
Jerusalem being recognized as the capital of Israel, for the United States to move its embassy there, for the Golan to be recognized as Israeli
So, there have been political gains there that resonate, you know, domestically for Prime Minister Netanyahu. But he's also been able to sort
of get and leverage that relationship with President Trump to bring the United States' leverage to the region, particularly towards Iran.
So that's been very beneficial. But, at the same time, you know, Prime Minister Netanyahu has also developed a strong relationship, it appears,
with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Moscow.
He was there at the May Day parades earlier this year sitting by the Russian president's side. That's a pride of place, if you will, that the
president of Russia doesn't hand out lightly. So that relationship has been important.
And, again, it's important for Israel's security because Russia plays a very strategic and important role in Syria, which is right on Israel's
border. It engages with Iran.
And this, of course, again, is part of how Israel would perceive it protecting its security in the region. So, again, Prime Minister Netanyahu
has been very effective about currying favor, important favor, and leverage with allies in the region, and, to wit, an improved relationship with Saudi
Arabia, the United Arab Emirates.
These have all been strong. And I think in times like this, where the president -- where Prime Minister Netanyahu, or the leader of any country,
is under question within their own country, those sort of relationships of leaders in those countries, whether it's President Trump, whether it's
President Putin or Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, the real sort of effective leader, day-to-day leader there, you might be able
to say, they're going to step back and just let the situation play out in Israel and watch it.
What they will be keen for is not to have a change in the relationship, and that really comes down to mutual strategic national interests. And at the
moment, President -- Prime Minister Putin has been very good at aligning Israel's strategic national interests with those of partners around the
And so, for those partners, they won't want to see that change significantly. They're invested in it. But, of course, they will respond
if that -- you know, if there is change in Israel. But, as we're seeing, if there is change, it's not going to come quickly, and they're going to --
and everyone will have plenty of time, if you will, to adjust.
KINKADE: It's interesting to note, Nic, that it appears already, at least in the last few months, that U.S. President Trump may have already started
to give Benjamin Netanyahu the cold shoulder, because when he was recently asked about Netanyahu, rather than giving some sort of elaborate praise or,
you know, making it a statement that's he's made in the past about their friendship and the U.S. being such a great friend of Netanyahu, he
basically said that the U.S. relationship is with Israel.
What do you think his team right now would be doing? How are they going to respond to all of this?
ROBERTSON: That is a small reflection of how a reset may look like, and that may be how the White House is viewing this at the moment, that, two
months ago, they couldn't really see whether it was going to be Prime Minister Netanyahu or Prime Minister Benny Gantz emerging, or somebody
else, for that matter.
And, typically, although one has to say President Trump doesn't behave typically like other leaders, typically, countries try to stay out of
influencing the immediate domestic political affairs, at least obviously, of other countries.
So, for President Trump to say the relationship is with Israel, when Israel is trying to form a new government under perhaps a different leader, that
would perhaps be just cautious international diplomacy or normal international diplomacy at work there.
But, you know, I think you have to look at the situation at the moment and say that President Trump has done a huge amount for Prime Minister
Netanyahu, but will there be a backlash against President Trump if Prime Minister Netanyahu does ultimately face these charges or is even convicted
of those charges?
President Trump has a remarkable ability to -- you know, to shed what may be difficult problems that could hamper other politicians. He has a
remarkable ability just to shed them, if you will, and for them not to have an effect on him.
But the biggest, the biggest factors going forward, you know, when you're talking about nation to nation, it's mutual strategic interests. And they
endure over any leadership, although different leaders can bring different qualities to those immediate day-to-day relationships.
KINKADE: Yes. It will be interesting to see how that relationship plays out in the coming months.
Nic Robertson, if you just can stand by for us, I want to go back to Oren Liebermann.
Just to recap for our viewers, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing some pretty serious charges of bribery, fraud, a breach of trust.
We are expected to hear from the prime minister very shortly. We're going take you there live for that press conference when it happens.
But, Oren, if you can just bring us up to speed. Just recap this three- year-long investigation and the charges now facing Benjamin Netanyahu.
Three separate corruption investigations we're looking at, and these have been the brunt of what we have focused on as these investigations have
proceeded over the course of the last three years.
The largest is known as Case 4000, sometimes called the Bezeq affair, in which Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, the most serious charge he faces,
as well as a charge of fraud and breach of trust, which, again, is a single charge in Israel.
In this case, prosecutors say Netanyahu advanced regulatory benefits to his friend and multimillionaire businessman Shaul Elovitch in exchange for
favorable news coverage in a news site owned by Elovitch under a telecommunications company he owned known as Bezeq, which is why this is
called the Bezeq affair.
In this, in February, Avichai Mandelblit, the attorney general, wrote -- and I will quote here -- "Elovitch gave you the above-mentioned favors,"
that is, the favorable news coverage, "in the expectation and mutual understanding that, with regard to your power, position and authority, you
would be able to help him promote matters that would give him directly or indirectly enormous benefits of a business and financial nature."
In that February statement about charges that he would be pursuing, pending a pre-indictment hearing, Mandelblit said these favors were worth more than
$250 million, and that was the basis at this point for the charge of bribery that Mandelblit has pursued.
That's the largest case against Netanyahu.
Then there's Case 2000. In this case, Netanyahu faces a charge fraud and breach of trust. Here, prosecutors say that Netanyahu was working on an
arrangement with the owner of one of the largest papers in Israel known as "Yedioth Ahronoth."
The arrangement was that Netanyahu would get again here in this case more favorable news coverage in exchange for limiting the circulation of one of
the rival papers of Yedioth Ahronoth.
It's worth noting there was no arrangement that ever was agreed upon between these two men, but the conversations went over the course of
several years. In the end, again, no agreement was reached, and that is where, in this case, Mandelblit decided he would charge Netanyahu with a
charge of fraud and breach of trust.
In both of these cases, as well as Case 1000, Netanyahu maintains his innocence.
In this final case, Case 1000, prosecutors say Netanyahu received hundreds of thousands of dollars of gifts from overseas businessmen in exchange for
some favors he pursued in relation to visas, in relation to tax exemptions and amendments.
And, here, Netanyahu faces a charge of fraud and breach of trust. Again, Netanyahu has proclaimed his innocence from the very beginning. He has
denounced the investigations as a media-fueled witch-hunt.
And that, I very much expect, is the sort of language, the sort of rhetoric and the sort of direction we will hear from Netanyahu when he's expected to
offer his statement shortly.
It seems he's running a few minutes behind, and it would be interesting to understand why the delay here. Perhaps he's considering his words,
considering how to respond to these charges, and what the attorney general said, insisting that none of the decisions made to indict him or have him
face indictment in these criminal investigations was political in nature, they were all professional, done out of a duty to the law and done out of a
duty to the state of Israel -- Lynda.
KINKADE: Oren, he is, of course, 70 years old. And Netanyahu has served now for 10 years.
What would it take, do you think, for him to finally stand down while these charges play out? Do you think there's any possibility of him resigning
LIEBERMANN: I would say roughly a zero percent chance. That would be absolutely shocking on so many different levels, because Netanyahu has
given no indication that's the direction he wants to go.
Even if the attorney general has announced these charges, there is a Still months-, if not years-long process. He doesn't have to resign until he's
convicted and that conviction is upheld through the appeals process.
But we can't even get to a formal indictment because of the holdup in the political process here. Netanyahu has a right to request parliamentary
immunity, but right now there's no Parliament, which means that process, too, is stalled.
All it means is that the political deadlock in Israel works to Netanyahu's favor right now, not only politically. It gives him more time to campaign,
and he is a master of Israel's political system. He has done campaigns and elections many times before, but also...
LIEBERMANN: And here is Netanyahu.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Citizens of Israel, I will give my life for the state of Israel.
I fought for the state. I got wounded. I am fighting for it the last years internationally and nationally in order for us to become an
And I'm very proud with our achievements.
However, I need to tell you that this is a very tough day for me, and I know it's a very tough day for everybody who supports me.
I want to say something. I respect the traditional system in Israel. They have got a great reputation, and you have to be blind not to see that
something wrong is happening with the investigators from police and from the attorney general.
We know from experience that these are false accusations and on political grounds. You probably realized that the decision of the attorney general
is today, is coming today, in the most sensitive timing of the political system and fighting in Israel.
The allegations were also given to the public a few weeks before the first elections. This evidence shows how much this process is affected by
It is all meant to pull me down. I want to see here a free market, not only in the economy, but also in opinions. I am a prime minister who
believes in a strong country and not in an obedient country which bends its head.
I am now addressing everybody, including my opponents. You have to understand that, in order for our country to flourish and to exist, we need
a government and we need law and order.
I fought all my life for this country. And I paid heavy payments. But whatever happened in the investigation process, creation of allegations,
this process culminated today.
And I'm telling you, I hear that this thing is against the opinion of most of the people, not me only. This is a filthy process, which creates
questions regarding the integrity of the police and the attorney general office.
It's already clear that the public lost the trust in the police and attorney general, and it started a few years ago with some other people,
when other people were -- could not be appointed to different positions because of allegations.
(INAUDIBLE) for example, is an attorney who received a lot of gifts in order to close cases. And even judges declared that attorney general is
corrupted. And whatever is happening in attorney general office, it's a system. It's a fierce system, and it has to end.
I know that every critic will say, how dare you talk about integrity of the judicial system? But, no, you, you, the public, you have to ask to
investigate the investigators, because the public needs to get clear answers regarding all the investigations, the fierce investigations
conducted against me.
They did not look to find the truth. They wanted to find me and to try to indict me. They did not want the truth. And they will taint this with
blackmail and threats in order to obtain whatever they wanted.
They took one of the witnesses, and a lot of blackmail and pressure was activated against him and against his family. But all this blackmail was
hidden from the attorney general. And, afterwards, it was allowed to be brought to the public knowledge.
This political exercise of squeezing and blackmailing witnesses, it's a big mistake. What other things are being hidden from the public in order to
convince people to witness forced accusations?
Even in other cases, it was said that blackmail was exercised in order to obtain information. It is the very same system. We saw this in different
-- in other different investigations, when one of the most distinguished investigators asked one of my maids to be a witness against me; otherwise,
she will go to jail.
This investigator instructed the maid what to tell against Mr. Netanyahu; otherwise, she will end in jail. They told her, if you are not going to
lie, then you are going -- tonight, you're going to jail.
Whoever is listening to me and hears me right now has to be absolutely shaken. How can it happen? How -- in what democracy, things like this can
happen? This is incredible. Why? And in what other democracies attorney general is instructing other people how to talk against the prime minister?
What are the e-mails that you don't know about? What are the instructions that you don't know about are coming? It is a political process against
The police investigators are taking the cell phones of my assistants without search orders from the police, and they ignore the law. At the
same time, the same investigators who are putting a lot of pressure, that these very same -- that the same investigators who do not investigate other
members of the Parliament who do not feed the process.
And about 43 members of Parliament were not investigated and questioned about a lot about the corruption story, that being the closing of a
newspaper which opposed their opinions. None of them were -- none of it was investigated. Why?
The answer is very clear, that nothing was done, and this is all for political reasons. This is all investigation by choice. Right now, they
are preparing cases for me. It's like a suit, to suit me, and all these accusations and allegations are like a suit meant to fit me only.
It is the first time in the history -- in the history of the world of the democracy that the investigators are investigating the relationship between
the media and politicians, but are investigating only one person, and it's me.
Even the attorney general said it's a precedent. This is the first time, but we have to get started someplace. And where do we get started? We get
started with you.
There's no one person in this state, in this country, how -- admit how much of a negative media me and my family received during the years. And,
still, I am accused of having any connections with the media. I am the one who got hurt by the media.
All this, they shake the trust of the public, injustice. We have to end all this. The public is in need of the true process and the truth of
whatever is happening.
We need to get an independent committee in order to investigate what's happening here. The time has come to investigate the investigators. The
time has come to investigate the attorney general that initiates these kinds of investigations.
I respect the police department and attorney general office, but we have to understand that there are people -- that these people and police and the
attorney general, they are not above the law. They are conditioned to the law. They have to enforce the law. They are accountable, and they need to
be transparent in accountability.
I want to quote somebody who said, the way attorney general conducts investigation brings a lot of suspicions that there was no integrity in the
way things were checked. These investigations and these systems cross every single red line.
And if these things do not bring any accusations, allegations of breaking the law, then I don't know what breaking the law means. This is a person
who was accused by the same attorney general, and now they are doing to me what they did to the other person. I am a bigger target. I am a prime
And, therefore, the allegations are even worse. To my sorrow, Attorney General Mandelblit, he did not withstand the pressure, and he surrendered
to all the process and to the pressure in the media that went against me.
Citizens of Israel, each one of you knows when injustice is being done to you and when you are powerless. Whatever I am going through, it's not
easy, and I'm human as well.
Whatever my family's going through, it's incredible. It's tough, day by day, each evening. They are spilling my blood every day, my blood and my
wife's. There is a lot of evil against me. And it's very tough on me.
I don't -- I'm not hiding to you that I was advised to bend my head and to give up on my principles. This is what I was told. However, I got my --