French President Emmanuel Macron came under fresh criticism from opposition leaders on Wednesday after appearing to dare opponents to take him on over a scandal surrounding his senior bodyguard and ripping into the media in front of supporters.
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 which has sparked the biggest political crisis of his tenure.
Footage showed Benalla, who was fired only on Friday, hitting a male protester and dragging away a woman while off duty and wearing a riot helmet and police tags.
The presidency said on Wednesday that Benalla’s office at the Elysee Palace had been searched as part of a judicial inquiry into the matter, but gave no other details.
Appearing at a closed-door event in front of his own lawmakers and ministers on Tuesday, Macron said he alone was responsible for what happened. “If they want to hold someone responsible, he is standing before you, they can come and get him,” he said, in a video leaked to the media.
Opposition leaders dismissed the comments as bravado, while leftist lawmaker Alexis Corbiere accused Macron of trying to bully the opposition.
The crisis began when the newspaper Le Monde identified the man beating the protester on a video as Benalla. “We have a press that is no longer pursuing the truth,” Macron said. “What I see is media power that wants to become judicial power.”
In his speech, however, Macron focused on dismissing satirical media’s ironic fake-news, such as “Benalla has access to nuclear power,” from the French version of The Onion like Nordpresse.
The head of Human Rights Watch in France, Benedicte Jeannerot, tweeted that Macron’s remarks were “dangerous rhetoric while journalists across the world are under attack by populist leaders and autocrats to discredit or stifle any criticism of power.”
Macron was unapologetic when pressed to comment on Wednesday during a visit to southern France. “I have been here for an hour and nobody has brought the issue up,” he told BFM television, while the hashtag “GoGetMacron” was going viral on Twitter. “Clearly, the heat and fatigue are getting to Parisians because here everything is fine.”