Mar 1, 2019

How John Kerry got tied up in Netanyahu's indictments

Kerry and Netanyahu in 2015. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images

One of the indictments against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had an interesting twist involving former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry.

Why it matters: This episode was part of "Case 1000," which saw Netanyahu indicted for breach of trust and fraud after allegedly receiving shipments of expensive champagne and Cuban cigars for more than a decade from Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchen. According to the indictment, the "gifts" were worth more than $130,000. In return, Netanyahu allegedly used his executive powers to help Milchen in his personal and business affairs.

According to the indictment, in the years 2013-2014 Milchen asked Netanyahu numerous times to contact the U.S. government in order to help him solve a problem regarding the extension of his visa.

  • Milchen called Netanyahu for the first time right after leaving the U.S. embassy in Tel-Aviv, when he was told that his visa was flagged and could not be extended.
  • The reason was an interview in which Milchen confessed that in the 70's and 80's he was an Israeli agent and helped purchase parts in the U.S. for Israel's clandestine nuclear program.
  • After Milchen's request, Netanyahu spoke with the U.S. ambassador at the time, Dan Shapiro, and asked him to help Milchen. Milchen soon had his visa extended, but only for a year and not ten years, as had been the case before.
  • Milchen then spoke to Netanyahu again and asked him to help get a longer-term visa. Netanyahu continued contacting U.S. government officials in an attempt to do so.

The indictment included this remarkable story:

  • Milchen once arrived at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem carrying a box of cigars and a box of champagne bottles.
  • Netanyahu wasn't home, and Milchen waited for him. When Netanyahu arrived Milchen told him that he brought cigars for him and champagne for his wife, before asking if he could call then-secretary of state Kerry about the visa.

According to the indictment, Netanyahu then called Kerry, and raised the issue again in a face-to-face meeting with the secretary of state. Milchen's visa was later extended for 10 years.

  • Some of the details of this story were reported previously in the Israeli press, but the indictment included more details and, more importantly, it had the stamp of the attorney general on it.
  • Kerry was never interviewed by the Israeli police about this episode. I asked his representatives about the issue several times over the last three years, and they all said Kerry received similar requests from other world leaders over the years and didn't think it was out of the ordinary. They also stressed that Kerry wasn't aware of the cigars and champagne relationship between Netanyahu and Milchen.

Go deeper

What the coronavirus means for Trump's presidency

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A poor response to the coronavirus could be politically devastating for President Trump, and so far his administration has given the strong impression that it’s still scrambling as the risk of a pandemic mounts.

Why it matters: There’s only so much any president can do to stop a virus from spreading, and for now the coronavirus is still very much under control within the U.S. But if the disease get worse in the months ahead, and if the administration seems to be caught off guard, that spells trouble for public confidence in Trump.

Go deeperArrow55 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus updates: New global case numbers surpass China's

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus is now affecting every continent but Antarctica and the WHO said Wednesday the number of new cases reported outside China has exceeded those inside the country for the first time.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,800 people and infected over 82,000 others in some 50 countries and territories. As Denmark and Estonia reported their first cases Thursday, Scott Morrison, prime minister of Australia — which has 23 confirmed infections — told a news conference, "The risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us."

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health

Mass shooting in Milwaukee: What we know

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in 2012. Photo: John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images

Six people died in a shooting at the Molson Coors Brewing Company in Milwaukee Molson Coors on Wednesday, including the 51-year-old gunman, Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters at an evening press conference with local police.

Details: All of the victims worked at the brewery complex, as did the shooter who died of "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, police confirmed in a statement late Wednesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy