French interior minister quits in new headache for Macron

71-year-old Gerard Collomb is the third minister to step down from Macron’s cabinet in two months. (AFP)
Updated 03 October 2018
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French interior minister quits in new headache for Macron

  • Collomb’s departure adds to the woes of French President Macron, who has a record low approval ratings
  • PM Edouard Philippe took temporary control of the interior ministry

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron was left scrambling to fill another key cabinet post Wednesday after Interior Minister Gerard Collomb resigned, the third minister to step down in two months.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe took temporary control of the interior ministry while Macron began searching for a replacement for 71-year-old Collomb, who was one of the first politicians to back him for president.
The fate of Collomb, nicknamed “France’s top cop” because his ministry is in charge of security and immigration, has thrown the government into flux.
Macron initially refused his resignation on Monday but on Tuesday night gave into Collomb’s request to be allowed to run again for his former job as mayor of the eastern city of Lyon.
The Liberation newspaper described the back-and-forth as “extraordinary dilly-dallying which seems more like something from a music-hall than government politics.”
Collomb’s departure adds to the woes of the France’s centrist leader, who is battling record low approval ratings after 17 months in power.
It comes just weeks after popular environment minister Nicolas Hulot resigned live on radio without warning Macron, saying he felt “all alone” in the government on green issues.
A stony-faced Philippe vowed at a handover ceremony Wednesday to “maintain the highest level of security for French people” while in charge of the interior ministry.


Collomb, a political heavyweight, had indicated two weeks ago that he intended to step down next year to run for his old job in Lyon.
But he came under pressure to resign immediately, with critics complaining that his focus had already shifted to the campaign trail.
He has previously compared his relationship with Macron, 31 years his junior, to that of a father and son, and wept during the new president’s inauguration in May 2017.
But their relationship is reported to have soured this summer over a scandal surrounding Macron’s former security aide Alexandre Benalla.
Benalla was caught on camera roughing up protesters at an anti-government demonstration, apparently posing as a policeman.
The affair blew up into a major scandal after it emerged that Macron’s office knew about the incident but kept Benalla on staff, only firing him after Le Monde newspaper broke the story.
Summoned to appear before a parliamentary inquiry, Collomb had pointed the finger of blame at Macron’s office, saying it was up to presidency to report Benalla to prosecutors.

Collomb “did not appreciate being put in the firing line over an affair which he didn’t believe was anything to do with him,” an aide said.
The rift between him and Macron appeared to deepen in recent weeks, with Collomb saying last month that Macron’s government “lacked humility” — echoing the accusations of arrogance often levelled at Macron personally.
Collomb served as Lyon mayor for 16 years until Macron poached him for the interior ministry, and it had long been rumored that he was eyeing a fourth term at the helm of France’s third-biggest city.
He is the third minister to quit Macron’s government since August, following ex-environment minister Hulot and former sports minister Laura Flessel.
The search for a new interior minister — one of the most powerful jobs in France — comes as Macron wrestles with problems on multiple fronts in his second year in office.
The former investment banker came to power at the head of a new centrist party promising to clean up politics and revive France’s sputtering economy.
But his government has been forced to cut its growth forecast to a lacklustre 1.6 percent this year as his pro-business reforms struggle to jumpstart an economic turnaround.
His ratings have tumbled, not helped by a string of comments seen as arrogant and dismissive toward ordinary people.
An Ifop poll on September 23 showed only 29 percent of respondents are satisfied with his performance while a Kantar Sofres poll on September 18 showed only 19 percent felt he was doing a good job.


Manafort ‘brazenly violated the law’ for years, says US special counsel Mueller

Updated 24 February 2019
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Manafort ‘brazenly violated the law’ for years, says US special counsel Mueller

  • Prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism”
  • Manafort is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case
WASHINGTON: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort committed crimes that cut to “the heart of the criminal justice system” and over the years deceived everyone from bookkeepers and banks to federal prosecutors and his own lawyers, according to a sentencing memo filed Saturday by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
In the memo, submitted in one of two criminal cases Manafort faces, prosecutors do not yet take a position on how much prison time he should serve or whether to stack the punishment on top of a separate sentence he will soon receive in a Virginia prosecution. But they do depict Manafort as a longtime and unrepentant criminal who committed “bold” crimes, including under the spotlight of his role as campaign chairman and later while on bail, and who does not deserve any leniency.
“For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law,” prosecutors wrote. “His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment.”
Citing Manafort’s lies to the FBI, several government agencies and his own lawyer, prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism.”
The 25-page memo, filed in federal court in Washington, is likely the last major filing by prosecutors as Manafort heads into his sentencing hearings next month and as Mueller’s investigation approaches a conclusion. Manafort, who has been jailed for months and turns 70 in April, will have a chance to file his own sentencing recommendation next week. He and his longtime business partner, Rick Gates, were the first two people indicted in the special counsel’s investigation. Overall, Mueller has produced charges against 34 individuals, including six former Trump aides, and three companies.
Manafort’s case has played out in stark contrast to those of other defendants in the Russia investigation, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who prosecutors praised for his cooperation and left open the possibility of no jail time.
Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy arising from his Ukrainian political consulting work and his efforts to tamper with witnesses. As part of that plea, he agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team, a move that could have helped him avoid a longer prison sentence. But within weeks, prosecutors say he repeatedly lied to investigators, including about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who the US says has ties to Russian intelligence. That deception voided the plea deal.
The sentencing memo comes as Manafort, who led Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for several critical months, is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case in Virginia. Mueller’s team endorsed a sentence of between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison in that case.
Prosecutors note that the federal guidelines recommend a sentence of more than 17 years, but Manafort pleaded guilty last year to two felony counts that carry maximum sentences of five years each.
Prosecutors originally filed a sealed sentencing memo on Friday, but the document was made public on Saturday with certain information still redacted, or blacked out.
In recent weeks, court papers have revealed that Manafort shared polling data related to the Trump campaign with Kilimnik. A Mueller prosecutor also said earlier this month that an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the “heart” of the Russia probe. The meeting involved a discussion of a Ukrainian peace plan, but prosecutors haven’t said exactly what has captured their attention and whether it factors into the Kremlin’s attempts to help Trump in the 2016 election.
Like other Americans close to the president charged in the Mueller probe, Manafort hasn’t been accused of involvement in Russian election interference.