Critics say Macron’s office failed to properly punish Alexandre Benalla, the head of his security detail, or refer him promptly to judicial authorities over an incident that has sparked the biggest political crisis of his tenure.
Footage showed Benalla, who was fired on Friday, hitting a male protester and dragging away a woman while off duty and wearing a riot helmet and police tags at a May Day protest in Paris this year.
“I feel like I have done something really stupid. And have made a mistake … I should never have gone to that demonstration as an observer,” Benalla told French newspaper Le Monde, which broke the story last week.
However, Benalla also denounced what he said was a “desire to get at the president” over the scandal, suggesting footage of the May Day incident had been leaked to the press by “high-level people” in order to “settle scores”.
He added: “I won’t say I was the fall-guy, I’m just saying it served various interests, an interest to get at the president of the Republic.”
The former security aide, whose Élysée Palace offices were searched on Wednesday, has been charged with assault and impersonating a police officer, more than two months after the incident.
Revelations that top officials in Macron’s office knew about the incident all along, and failed to report it, have sparked furious opposition claims of a cover-up.
Two parliamentary committees have been grilling top aides to Macron over the affair, with the president’s chief of staff Alexis Kohler the latest to take the stand on Thursday.
Kohler, speaking before a Senate committee, acknowledged that officials’ initial decision to punish Benalla with a two-week suspension may “appear insufficient” but at the time it seemed “proportionate”.
Macron, who broke his silence on the Benalla Affair earlier this week, has further angered critics by appearing to dare opponents to take him on over the scandal and ripping into the media for “talking nonsense”.
On Thursday, he dismissed the whole saga as a “storm in a teacup”.
Lawmakers from the opposition Les Républicains are set to file a vote of confidence in the government on Friday – a largely symbolic move, since Macron’s centrists hold a strong majority in the lower-house National Assembly.
The president’s already-low approval ratings, however, appear to have taken a further hit from the scandal, with a record 60 percent reporting an unfavourable opinion of him in an Ipsos poll published Tuesday.