PARIS – The former security aide to President Emmanuel Macron who triggered an uproar after a video showed him beating a protester acknowledged a "huge mistake" in attending the demonstration equipped as a police officer, but described it as a political error that ended up backfiring against the French leader.
Authorities have opened a judicial investigation into Alexandre Benalla, who was fired last week, and his office was searched on Wednesday. Le Monde newspaper published the interview Thursday with Benalla, who had shaved his beard to be less recognizable.
Macron's office has been criticized for not disclosing the accusations weeks ago and the way it handled them. The French leader said Tuesday at a private gathering of his centrist party that he alone was responsible. He has not spoken publicly to lawmakers during a week of televised parliamentary sessions, but when pressed by journalists on Wednesday he downplayed the uproar over Benalla's actions.
"He made a real, serious error which I felt was a personal betrayal and told him so. He was punished for this error and then resumed his work. When he made a second error he was more severely punished, as had been expected," Macron said. "Everyone makes mistakes, the response has to be proportional."
France's parliament has opened up a series of inquiries into Benalla's role within the Macron administration and his request to carry firearms. The 26-year-old claimed credit for choosing the site where Macron formally claimed the presidency — the Louvre palace — and said his job was to take care of Macron's private life. He can be seen in dozens of photos, at Macron's side or just behind him.
"I don't have the sense that I betrayed the president; I have the sense that I made a huge mistake, to have committed an error," Benalla said. "But this error, it's more from a political point of view: I never should have gone to that protest as an observer and then, perhaps, I should have stayed back."
Benalla said targeting him has been a means to hurt Macron. "I am the weak link," he said.
Benalla had considered himself a crucial part of Macron's detail, and has criticized his official security, the equivalent of the American Secret Service. "They aren't at all involved in organization. They only handle security," he told Le Monde.
Earlier this week, speaking to lawmakers, Paris Police Chief Michel Delpuech denounced what he called "unhealthy cronyism" to explain Benalla's apparent sway within France's security apparatus. However, both the interior minister and the police chief said Benalla was among some 40 people present in the command room on the night of May 1, watching video screens of the police cleanup operation of the protests.