A senior source close to the investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back against a claim from the premier that he was denied a request to confront his accusers in a series of graft cases, Israeli television reported Wednesday.
Speaking with Hadashot TV news, the unnamed source confirmed that Netanyahu twice requested to hold a confrontation with state witnesses, but added that he then said needed to check with his lawyers first.
The source said that Netanyahu never got back to them with a final response, even though they told him they could make a confrontation happen.
“We understood that Netanyahu didn’t want a confrontation because he didn’t get back to us,” the source said. “To [now] say he wants one, after the probe has ended, is [due to] his desire to stop a decision [on a possible indictment] he realizes is to be made very soon.”
In a live statement on prime time television Monday evening, Netanyahu demanded that police allow him to confront his former aides and colleagues who have reportedly provided incriminating evidence in the three graft cases in which he is a suspect.
“I wanted to look them in the eye and throw the truth at them. I demanded it once and was refused. I demanded it a second time and was refused. Why was I refused this confrontation, that is so necessary to uncovering the truth? What are they afraid of? What have they got to hide?” Netanyahu asked on Monday night.
Netanyahu lawyers’ rejected the Hadashot report later Wednesday night, saying it was an attempt to pass the blame onto him.
“The prime minister demanded twice to confront the state witnesses and the fact that no confrontation was held is a scandal that rests entirely on the shoulders of police,” they said.
Netanyahu also struck out directly at Hadashot news on his personal Twitter account.
“More biased leaks and fake news from Channel 2,” he wrote, using the network’s former name.
Legal officials, pundits and opposition leaders have dismissed his demand, saying that a confrontation between a suspect and witnesses during a police probe is an investigation tool that can — but doesn’t have to — be used by police, and isn’t a right to be demanded by the suspect. Suspects can confront the witnesses against them in court during cross-examination.
The state witnesses in the Netanyahu probes are his former chief of staff, Ari Harow; Nir Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family; and Shlomo Filber, the former Communications Ministry director general.
The Hadashot report that police would have okayed a confrontation seemed to contradict earlier reports of claims by law enforcement officials, who said that a confrontation was not appropriate for the cases Netanyahu is accused in.
On Tuesday, a senior law enforcement official accused Netanyahu of trying to “deceive the public” and disrupt the criminal investigations against him with his demand to confront the witnesses.
“Netanyahu wants to assert his power, weight and status to disrupt the investigation,” Army Radio quoted a “very senior official” in the State Prosecutor’s Office as saying. “In a confrontation with him, those state witnesses could give a different statement than what they gave police.”
Netanyahu is suspected of bribery in three cases, one of which involves gifts from wealthy associates, with the other two involving potential quid pro quo deals for regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage. Police have recommended charges in all three.
Netanyahu has long accused police, the media and the political left of pushing a conspiracy against him, and has denied any wrongdoing.
Netanyahu has been vocal in recent days in his opposition to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s reported intention to announce his decision on whether to summon the prime minister for a pre-indictment hearing before the April elections.
Media reports have indicated that Mandelblit, the final authority on whether state prosecutors will ultimately press charges, seeks to announce his decision on a possible indictment, pending a hearing, in February.
Netanyahu has dismissed the allegations as a witch hunt and has pushed for Mandelblit to hold back on releasing a decision to indict until after the election, citing the fact that a hearing process on the matter in which he would give his side of the story cannot be completed before the election.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.