Macron Lies Low as French Anger Grows Over Rogue Bodyguard
(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron remained out of sight on Monday as his team tried to contain the fallout after a controversial aide was caught on camera striking a protester at a May 1 rally in Paris.
After going to ground all weekend, the head of state canceled plans to join crowds watching Wednesday’s stage of the Tour de France bike race, though he will still travel to the French Pyrenees that day for his next scheduled public appearance. Macron had brushed away questions on the issue during a visit to the south-west of France last Thursday.
Instead, the president’s allies took to the airways to defend him. Christophe Castaner, head of Macron’s political movement, denied there had been a coverup and said that Macron had ordered a review of the structure of his team and further sanctions to be taken.
“The president will speak when he has the full picture,” Castaner said. “The image is very bad, I am no way trying to minimize it. The French people have been shocked.”
But opposition lawmakers are demanding to know how a man who was neither a police officer nor a member of the security services came to hold a central role in protecting the president. And why he was allowed to return to his duties after an initial sanction for the attack, in which he impersonated a police officer.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb washed his hands of the issue on Monday when he testified before parliament. Forced to appear by opposition parties who blocked debate on Macron’s constitutional reform bill, Collomb said he had assumed that the aide, Alexandre Benalla, had been part of Macron’s regular security detail.
Benalla had organized security for Macron’s 2017 election campaign and continued in a similar role at the Elysee. He was charged Sunday for violence and exceeding his authority. Prosecutors allowed him to return home after he’d been taken into custody for questioning Friday morning.
“It’s the Elysee that must bring the answers,” Marine Le Pen, who ran against Macron for president last year as head of the far-right National Front, said on Europe1. “The real issue is the coverup, the impunity.”
Collomb said Benalla had twice been refused a gun permit by the Interior Ministry and he finally obtained one from the Paris police in October 2017. He said he’d become aware of some of the videos on May 2 but it had been up to the Macron’s office to decide what to do about it.
Benalla was suspended without pay for 15 days in early May and was confined to office work once he’d served his suspension, Macron’s spokesman Bruno Roger-Petit said.
French newspapers contradicted that account, publishing photos of Benalla accompanying Macron on outings across France in recent weeks.
Benalla was fired Friday, two days after Le Monde newspaper released video of him manhandling protesters. The footage showed the presidential bodyguard hitting demonstrator repeatedly in the back while wearing a police mask. Another clip emerged Thursday showing him grabbing a female protester and pushing her up against a wall.
Members of all the major parties called for Macron to speak openly about the issue and explain why it wasn’t made public back in May.
According to an Odoxa poll carried out after France won the soccer World Cup and released July 17, the percentage of people saying that Macron “is not a good president” rose 2 percentage points in a month to 61 percent.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.