The former presidential security aide at the centre of a firestorm over his violent behaviour toward protesters on May Day told TF1 President Emmanuel Macron is not to blame, and that he “betrayed” his boss.
“It's not the role of a presidential collaborator to expose him to polemic, as we have seen with this mediatised political storm,” he said during his televised interview.
“So there is a form of betrayal. I feel that I made a big mistake."
But Benalla defended his actions by accusing the two protesters he roughed up of “committing crimes against police”.
“I had the reaction of a citizen who wanted to help [police] stop and arrest those whom I considered to be delinquents," he said.
New Benalla video
The interview was recorded shortly before a new video of Benalla on May Day was published by the French newspaper Libération. The second video allegedly shows Benalla, a police officer and and Vincent Crase, a security aide for Macron’s Republic on the Move party (LREM), confronting protesters in another part of Paris on the same day.
According to Libération, a group of people were seeking to leave the protest by crossing through the Jardin des Plantes park when they crossed paths with Benalla, Crase and the officer. The latter told them to turn around and exit the other way. A verbal, then physical altercation occurred when the protesters argued, saying that police on the other side of the park had just told them to take the exit they had been heading towards.
One of the protesters told the paper that when Benalla and Crase saw she was filming on her phone, they pushed her against a tree, took her phone and deleted the video. She was later able to recover the video on her phone’s memory card using special software, Libération reports.
According to the paper, the video was filmed some three hours before the events at Place Contrescarpe. It was there that Benalla was identified – in the first video published last week by French daily Le Monde – as the man roughing up two protesters. Benalla was embedded with police as an observer that day, yet was wearing a police helmet and armband during the incident.
Scandal paralyses politics
“Benallagate” has swelled into a sweeping political crisis for Macron.
The opposition has filed two no confidence motions in the government, which are due to be discussed on Tuesday. While the move is mostly symbolic, as Macron’s LREM party commands a solid majority in parliament, it will allow the opposition to interrogate Prime Minister Edouard Philippe over the affair.
Macron said he accepted responsibility for the affair, but his statement did little to calm the opposition, which has accused the government of a cover-up. The Elysee knew of the event soon after but did not report it to police.
Two parliamentary committees have held dozens of hearings over the last week, grilling top presidential aides along with police and security figures.
The president's chief of staff Alexis Kohler acknowledged that the initial decision to punish Benalla with a two-week suspension was insufficient, but at the time seemed proportionate.
Authorities have opened a judicial investigation into Benalla and searched his office on Wednesday. He was fired last week after the first video was published, and has been charged with assault and impersonation of a police officer.