PARIS – French police searched the presidential palace office Wednesday of the former security aide to President Emmanuel Macron who was seen beating a protester in a video that triggered a political firestorm.
An official at the presidential Elysee Palace confirmed that Alexandre Benalla, who was fired last week, was present during the search. The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be named.
Authorities opened a judicial investigation of Benalla's actions at a May Day protest after Le Monde newspaper identified him as the person acting violently in the video it released last week. Investigators searched Benalla's apartment on Saturday.
Macron's office has been criticized for not disclosing the accusations weeks ago and the way it handled them. The French leader said Tuesday night at a gathering of officials and lawmakers from his centrist party that he alone was responsible.
On Wednesday, Macron brushed away questions during an official visit in the Pyrenees, where he was welcomed with local songs.
"Stop getting so excited about this affair," he told inquiring journalists. "Stay calm. I'm with people here. We're happy and all is well."
The dismissive reaction was unlikely to sit well with opposition lawmakers. They are among the members of parliament who are questioning presidential officials as part of two inquiries set up to find out why Benalla was kept on the job after the May incident.
Lawmakers also want to know why Benalla's behavior while accompanying police officers at the protest was not immediately reported to judicial officials. His punishment at the time — two weeks' suspension and what has been described in inquiry testimony as a demotion —have been seen by many legislators as inadequate.
Testimony by the director of Macron's office, Patrick Strzoda, might have made matters worse. Strzoda, who said he decided the punishment, told the Senate inquiry commission Wednesday that Benalla's pay was not withheld during the two-week suspension in May, but was being deducted from vacation time owed him on his firing date.
Macron addressed the issue for the first time on Tuesday night, six days after the beating video surfaced.
"If they want someone responsible, tell them he is in front of you," Macron said at the party event. "Because the one responsible is me and me alone. Tell them they can come and get me."
Some lawmakers criticized the president for failing to address the nation and instead choosing a forum where neither the press nor the public was present. A video of the event was leaked to some French media.