In France, conservative Fillon takes a swing at socialist President Hollande

In a French presidential campaign increasingly patterned after the U.S. recent soap, rightwing nominee François Fillon publicly accused socialist President Hollande of dirty tricks to destroy his candidacy and any chance of a political change. But going further than Trump with Clinton, he asked the Public Prosecutor to have the President investigated.

Fillon, who served as prime minister under rightwing President Nicolas Sarkozy and won a landslide victory at the primary of the right and center last November, dropped his bombshell during a recent live broadcast on the public TV station France 2.  He implicated President Hollande in leaks of confidential documents that were meant to eliminate him as a candidate and halt the country’s likely shift to the right.  He sternly characterized Hollande’s underhanded tactics as a “state scandal” and demanded an investigation.

Fillon is ironically embroiled in an investigation of his own after allegations surfaced in the press that he had remunerated his wife Penelope for a fake assistant job years ago.  News reports first appeared on Jan. 25 and an investigation was immediately initiated by the public prosecutor. But the attacks did not stop there. The ‘Canard Enchaîné,’ the paper behind the first revelations, followed them up with others with a strange zeal - fake jobs for two of his children, too, an interest-free 50,000-euro loan that Fillon had failed to declare, and personal gifts perhaps indicating influence-peddling.

Despite Fillon’s denial of any wrongdoing and the presumption of innocence he was normally entitled to, the media rendered a de facto guilty verdict even before his auditioning by the examining judges.

The media outlet ‘France Inter’ even coined a novel legal concept, tailor-made to indict Fillon in popular opinion: “the presumption of guilt” and it invited its legal ‘expert’ to confuse a lay audience.

Media relentlessness, coupled with Fillon’s investigation over facts sometimes twenty years old, timed to coincide with a presidential election where he was the leading candidate and the candidate of change, pointed to a collusion between the executive, the judiciary and the media.  But daring to challenge "the independence of justice" and the “integrity of the republic’s institutions" that each and all presidential candidates were “expected to uphold,” came at a price. It unleashed a storm of criticism and new defections among his supporters.

Yet, Fillon would not be silenced. Within a few weeks, a man once measured and mild-mannered had morphed into a rebel set against a corrupt establishment. Bypassing it, he went directly to the people to seek out his legitimacy, despite the clamor that by doing so he was, like Donald Trump, “personalizing” his campaign.  He was acclaimed by 40,000 Parisians who came to show their enthusiastic support at a political rally improvised on March 5 at ‘Place du Trocadéro.’

Thierry Lentz, historian and director of the Napoleon Foundation, offers an interesting analysis of the Catch-22 situation into which the establishment was trying to lock Fillon.  He calls it a ‘Judicial Assassination’ 

“The tune of the independent justice is an easy one to play, easier still when it is made to rhyme with 'Republican values.'  For woe unto those who dare question that independence, or those circumstances surrounding the designation of a prosecutor and the timing of the procedure, or who protest the leaking of confidential documents to those most likely to publish them - unscrupulous journalists.

Victims of that foul play often have no other choice than to bite the bullet and refrain from counter-attacking, while reaffirming their faith in their country’s justice system, possibly with their hand on their heart.”

Under the guise of 'the independence of justice,' and 'respect for due process,' they are thus silenced - even friends and communication consultants advise them to lie low - to avoid the stigma of 'anti-republicanism' or worse, being accused of sedition.

For the scheme to work, the complicity of the Fourth Estate is of the essence. And it is usually part of the equation, based on the unassailable tenet of the 'duty to inform.'  Media unaccountability is thereby reinforced, except perhaps to shareholders who, by some happy coincidence, happen to sponsor a rival candidate.”

A blatant example of media collusion was offered on the evening of March 23, when France 2 had the interesting idea of putting François Fillon face-to-face with a "surprise guest.”  Christine Angot was introduced to viewers as a “writer,” as she is by the number, if not the quality, of her books.  Her intervention could have been the legitimate questioning of a candidate by a private citizen, but instead, it turned into the political lynching of a man to whom the presumption of innocence applied no more.  In a way reminiscent of Democrats’ moral decline in the United States, Angot epitomized what had become of the 'moral' left in France: a “violent imposture unconcerned with the minimum respect due to interlocutors,” who were condemned before even being heard.  As a self-appointed public prosecutor and moralizing voice of the people all at once, she announced at the outset that she had not come to debate. Dramatically clad in black like a harpy, a “Cretan goddess of death, she viciously tore up her prey with her claws.”

She spewed her venom on Fillon for 10 minutes, without presenter David Pujadas intervening to shut her up. But when the shrew realized her performance was getting booed by people in the audience, she walked out of the show. Not before throwing defiantly in Fillon's face that the TV presenter had made her come to say what he could not say himself.

Interestingly, France 2’s choice of a debater to challenge Fillon was also no stranger to defamation. She was sentenced in a 2013 libel case and is currently being investigated in another.

Her psychological profile, too, could not have been more different from the Catholic Fillon, a husband devoted to the same woman for 36 years and the father of five children. He must have represented the loathable ‘patriarcal right’ for this woman whose books invariably revolved around incest, homosexuality and promiscuity.

Her story ‘Incest,’ is part confession of a homosexual bond and part recollection of an incestuous relationship with her father, and had propelled her to the front of the literary scene. A few years later, her former lover who chose to be called 'Doc Gynéco,' had the surprise of discovering his most private moments with Angot shared in gory detail in her new book, 'The Market of Lovers.'

Angot received a literary prize, endowed with 30,000 euros by Pierre Bergé, life partner of the late couturier Yves Saint Laurent and promoter of 'marriage for all.'

The same Pierre Bergé is the head of the influential 'Le Monde' newspaper and an important sponsor of Emmanuel Macron, Fillon’s leftwing rival.

Throughout the broadcast, Fillon defended himself with dignity:

“The press has been pouring on me a torrent of mud . In 36 years of public life, never was my honor questioned in any way.”

When presenter Pujadas asked him facetiously if he still saw a collusion between the Judiciary, the Interior Ministry and the media, Fillon went on the offensive and dropped his bombshell: in the conspiracy against his person and his candidacy, he was implicating the highest official of the State, the President of the Republic, Mr. François Hollande.

Before a stunned audience, he cited a just-published book: 'Welcome to Place Beauvau [the address of the Interior Ministry] - The dirty secrets of a quinquennium,’ which described a vast surveillance system set up by Hollande since his arrival at the Élysée Palace. This "black cabinet" or shadow state was used to discredit, and even destroy political adversaries through the use of tricks, ‘scandals’ and leaks about their private lives.

“This book was written by journalists who are very far from being my friends since two of them are from the Canard Enchaîné, ” said Fillon. He explained that Hollande was having all judicial communication of interest intercepted and routed to his office. This was highly illegal and deserved to be investigated, he said.  It was to be hoped the prosecutor would display the same diligence she had shown in his case.

The operation to destabilize Fillon revealed a mastery of time and dossiers that could only come from the president’s office. It was meant to benefit Hollande’s choice - Emmanuel Macron.

On the following morning, six senators and MPs from his ‘Les Republicains’ party seized the public prosecutor of Paris, François Molins, and the national financial prosecutor Eliane Houlette, solemnly asking them to take up the case, “because doubt cannot subsist on such serious accusations affecting the top echelons of the State, including the President of the Republic.”

In their letter, they wrote that seventeen sections of the book could be characterized as crimes of  "conspiracy, corruption, influence peddling, corruption of judicial authorities, invasion of privacy, fraudulent collection of personal data, intentional disclosure of confidential data, breach of investigative and professional secrecy, abuse of authority, and other violations and infringements upon fundamental freedoms.”

Within three weeks of the first round of election, this new bombshell has made the already unpredictable French election even harder to call.

Contents from the book are being picked up by political experts and commentators. It is starting to dawn on them that Macron’s departure from his ministerial post in the socialist government of Hollande to create his own party six months before the election, was not an “act of treason.”  The indignation was staged.  Macron’s exit was actually planned with the president’s acquiescence or perhaps blessing, to permit a rebranding of the Socialist party for the benefit of both.

To wit, Hollande had decided not to run for a second term, conscious that his tenure had been a disaster.  As he was already in a state of clinical death, politically speaking, he sought to reincarnate through his protegé and alter ego Macron, who would revive a moribund socialism with neo-liberal injections and give it a new look to seduce a disinchanted electorate eager for change.  With Macron elected, Hollande could hope for the extension of his own political career that he could not obtain through reelection.  He would probably land a prestigious position such as ‘Special Advisor to the President’ or ‘President of the Constitutional Council,’ or why not, a high-level UN post? 

But for this Macchiavellian scheme to work, it was first necessary, through backstage maneuvering, to demolish Fillon or any other strong candidate who would emerge from the primary to stand in the way of a Macron victory.  Their files were ready to dish the dirt.  A leftist public prosecutor and a compliant corporate press mostly owned by Macron’s sponsors would do the rest.

Macron’s connivance with Hollande, if established, would be damaging to him. The candidate of ‘change and renewal’ would appear as nothing more than ‘the old emperor in new clothes.'

Some damage was already inflicted when the Socialist Party's former Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared recently that he would vote for Macron in the first round.  Macron is none too pleased with this inconvenient political endorsement, which is putting him squarely in the Socialist camp, causing him to be seen as a clone of Hollande.

This new development is of course manna for the Fillon camp, which was quick to coin a new name for Emmanuel Macron: “Emmanuel Hollande.”

 The least that can be said is that the game is far from over in this turbulent French presidential election where the stakes are so high, and surprises are to be expected until the very end, as was also the case in the last American election.