Macron’s security aide charged over assaults caught on video

In this file photo taken on May 28, 2018 French President Emmanuel Macron stands with advisers behind the main entrance glass doors of the Elysee presidential palace in Paris. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2018
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Macron’s security aide charged over assaults caught on video

  • The incident is the most damaging scandal to hit Macron since he took office last year
  • An aide to Macron and an employee of the ruling party were caught on video assaulting May Day protesters

PARIS: A former top security aide for French President Emmanuel Macron was charged Sunday along with an employee of the ruling party after they were caught on video assaulting May Day protesters, footage that went viral on social media.
In the most damaging scandal to hit Macron since he took office last year, Alexandre Benalla and Vincent Crase were charged with “gang violence,” Paris prosecutors said.
Three high-ranking police officers, already suspended on suspicion they illegally gave Benalla video surveillance footage of the incidents to help him try to clear his name, were charged with misappropriation of the images and violating professional secrecy.
The president has yet to comment on the scandal, but his office said Benalla was punished in May with a two-week suspension from active duty.
Yet Benalla continued to appear in Macron’s security details.
The opposition accuses Macron, who came to power on pledges to restore transparency and integrity to the nation’s highest office in order to ensure a “republic of responsibility,” of covering up for Benalla.
Benalla, 26, was fired Friday after video footage emerged showing him hitting a man at least twice as riot police looked on while breaking up a May Day protest in Paris.
Benalla, who was wearing a police helmet with visor as well as a police armband, was additionally charged with impersonating a police officer, as well as complicity in the unauthorized use of surveillance footage.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb is to appear before parliament on Monday morning, with some MPs warning they will demand his resignation if he knew about the incident but kept quiet.
After publishing the first video of the incident last Wednesday, French daily Le Monde posted a second video showing Benalla violently wrestling a young woman to the ground during the scuffles on a square near the Rue Mouffetard, a picturesque Left Bank street.
Just days after the May 1 demonstrations, which were marred this year by anarchists who clashed with police, Macron had tweeted that “everything will be done so that those responsible will be identified and held accountable for their actions.”
In a third video, published by the Mediapart investigative news site, police officers are seen kicking and punching the young man even after he has been immobilized on the sidewalk.
The man and woman seen in the videos have come forward and plan to testify, a source close to the inquiry said.
The government has been forced to suspend debate on a constitutional reform bill after a revolt by lawmakers, who have announced investigations by both the National Assembly and Senate.
“If Macron doesn’t explain himself the Benalla affair will become the Macron affair,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen posted on Twitter.
“Why the devil did he insist on protecting a second-rank employee who should have been kicked out of the Elysee months ago?” rightwing daily Le Figaro asked in an editorial Sunday.
But ruling Republic on the Move (LREM) party spokesman Gabriel Attal defended the president’s silence.
If Macron speaks now, “we’d have indignant commentators everywhere saying his comments could influence the inquiry,” Attal said.
Adding to the controversy, Le Monde reported Friday that despite his suspension Benalla was allowed this month to move into a palatial mansion along the Seine reserved for Elysee workers.
He was also being provided with a car and chauffeur, the paper said.
Investigators have searched Benalla’s home in the Paris suburb of Issy-Les-Moulineaux, where a city hall official said Benalla was supposed to have married on Saturday.
The scandal could hardly have come at a worse time for Macron, whose approval ratings fell to a record low of 39 percent last week, defying analysts’ expectations of a post-World Cup bump.
“Macron defenseless,” the Journal du Dimanche said in a front-page headline on Sunday over a picture of the president and Benalla.


Pentagon authorizes $1bn for Trump’s border wall

Updated 26 March 2019
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Pentagon authorizes $1bn for Trump’s border wall

  • The wall will run for 92 kilometres with 5.5-meter fencing
  • Acting defense secretary said federal law allows the Pentagon to build infrastructure on the US border

WASHINGTON: Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan has authorized $1 billion to build part of the wall sought by Donald Trump along the US-Mexico border, the first funds designated for the project under the president’s emergency declaration.
The Department of Homeland Security asked the Pentagon to build 92 kilometres of 5.5-meter fencing, construct and improve roads, and install lighting to support Trump’s emergency declaration.
Shanahan “authorized the commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and executing up to $1 billion in support to the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol,” a Pentagon statement issued late Monday read.
The acting defense secretary cited a federal law that he said gives the Pentagon broad authority to build infrastructure “across international boundaries of the United States in support of counter-narcotic activities of federal law enforcement agencies.”
The statement was released a day before Shanahan was due to testify in Congress to present and defend the Pentagon’s draft budget.
The White House has laid out an ambitious 2020 budget proposal which contains $8.6 billion in new wall funding, above the $5.7 billion Trump sought for this year.
Frustrated by Congress’s refusal to provide the budget he wanted, Trump declared a national emergency last month.
The White House has signalled it will seek to repurpose some $6 billion from military funds, without specifying which Pentagon programs would be slashed.
The move drew condemnation from both the president’s rival Democrats and fellow Republicans, who warned it was an abuse of presidential powers and created a dangerous precedent.
Trump has made border security an over-arching domestic issue and says it will remain at the centre of the agenda in his 2020 re-election bid.
Although there has been a surge in arrival of families and children at the border, overall apprehensions at the frontier are down substantially from a decade or more ago.
There have also been reported misgivings within the military, including from America’s top marine who last week warned that deployments to the US-Mexico border pose an “unacceptable risk” to the force, according to documents obtained by The Los Angeles Times.
In memos addressed to acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan and Navy secretary Richard Spencer, General Robert Neller wrote that he had been forced to cancel or reduce exercises in five countries.
Neller added the declaration meant the corps could not afford to rebuild hurricane-hit bases in North Carolina and Georgia.
“The hurricane season is only three months away... and we have Marines, Sailors, and civilians working in compromised structures,” Neller wrote.
The declaration has also been challenged by 16 states which sued the administration last month, contending the order was contrary to the constitution’s presentment and appropriations clauses, which outline legislative procedures and define Congress as the final arbiter of public funds.
The lawsuit also questioned Trump’s categorization of illegal border crossings as a national emergency, saying data issued by the administration itself refuted the notion.
Should the states prevail, the case could work its way up to the Supreme Court, setting up a precedent-setting showdown on the separation of powers.