There are moments when any observer of French politics must shake his head in disbelief. Today, Le Monde reveals that in June François Fillon sought a lunch with Jean-Pierre Jouyet, secretary-general of the Elysée, in order to tell him to "strike quickly" against Sarkozy by accelerating the investigation of wrongdoing in the Bygmalion affair. According to Jouyet's account, relayed to two Le Monde journalists in September, Jouyet took this request to Hollande (who had been informed of the lunch beforehand and insisted that it take place outside the Elysée), but the two men agreed that, of course (wink, wink), the judicial branch in France is independent and nothing, absolutely nothing, must be done to interfere.
This story raises any number of questions. If the executive is really as pristine as Jouyet suggests, then why did Fillon, who also knows a thing or two about the inner workings of government, make the request, knowing that if it became public it would make him look like a vindictive rival out to sink a feared opponent for the leadership of the UMP and the 2017 presidential candidacy? Why did Jouyet reveal this sensitive information to Le Monde? Why did Le Monde sit on the story for two months only to publish two weeks before the UMP leadership election. Why did the Le Monde reporters record their discussion with Jouyet, apparently without his knowledge, since he later denied what he told them? Who is manipulating whom and for what purpose in this affair?
I find it quite believable that Fillon, upon joining the triumvirate that replaced Copé as head of the party, was outraged by what he discovered of the Sarkozy-Copé depredations at the UMP. His desire for vengeance against Sarkozy is perfectly comprehensible. He might well have believed that Jouyet, one of those chameleon figures who was as comfortable serving Sarkozy or Jospin as he is serving Hollande, was the right conduit. Taking Sarkozy's own derisive view of him to heart, he might even have decided that de l'audace was precisely what he lacked to be worthy of the presidency, and contacting Jouyet was certainly an audacious move.
But what is Jouyet's game? Why did he talk to the press? And what is Le Monde's game? Why is it publishing now? Does it want to sink Fillon? To what end? To abet Juppé? To elect Bruno Le Maire as head of the UMP, on the theory that both Fillon and Sarkozy are discredited by these allegations? Everything about this affair points to the less savory features of the French political class: the connivance between politicians and journalists, the selective publication of information with timing suggesting occult ends, the betrayal of confidences (first by Jouyet, then presumably by Le Monde, which I have to think received Jouyet's information "off the record" yet recorded his words to back a carefully timed revelation several months later), etc.
To be sure, there is little enough confidence left in the country's political institutions anyway, but this episode only reinforces the partisans of tous pourris--and we know where that sort of thinking ends up. I am flabbergasted.
UPDATE: Fillon is suing the 2 journalists who broke the story in their book for slander. And they claim that they recorded Jouyet with his consent. Whether his remarks were supposed to be off the record or not remains unclear.