Joseph Muscat turned up before the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry on Friday and it was a performance worthy of his blameless wife when she broke swimming records and bathed the country with charity.
What Michelle did for Charity, Muscat wants us to know that he has done for Faith and Hope. He asked not what democracy could do for him but what he could do for democracy. He told the inquiry History will judge him (not the panel as they were prejudiced, myopic and possibly partisan).
But to help History along, his message was uploaded on Facebook even as he spoke, so that the splendour of his democratic robes could be compared with the rags of his predecessors.
The testimony was full of barbs, some explicit, some personalised and coded, including at the judges themselves. They were prejudicing the case because they were not looking broadly enough — at the Opposition, the Courts and the media.
But his broad message rested on two pillars. First, he was a heroic victim — prior to the assassination and afterwards. Second, some of the evidence lies in how he regards good governance.
Heroic? Yes, even now he is magnanimous towards Caruana Galizia, whom he acknowledges could produce world-class journalism. He never targeted or sued journalists. It was “ironic” (why is unclear) that she successfully sued him for a book he wrote on freemasonry in which a photograph suggested she was linked to it. As ironic, presumably, as the fact he still has a libel case active against her.
He even feels some kinship with her. Just as she was called a ‘two-bit blogger’ he was once derided as a two-bit journalist.
Like him, she may have been a victim of the Egrant “lie”, having been fed a falsehood; although he was much more of a victim — thrice over, since it hurt him, it hurt his children and it impaired his judgement when he came to assess if the Panamagate allegations were true or not.
And his record on governance speaks for itself. Was he close to the business world? Of course. It’s the duty of a prime minister to safeguard jobs. But he removed time-barring for cases of corruption and criminal libel.
He disapproved of online hate groups even if they can include you without your knowledge. He disagreed with Glenn Bedingfield’s propensity to retort to Caruana Galizia on his own blog. If he, Muscat, put her up on a billboard, it was only because she was the Opposition, and so that’s legitimate — in a democracy.
The problem with this splendid finery is that it’s just not there.
Take an apparent side issue. He told us he was good at saving money, so he invested some in the US. But as long as he was prime minister, he told us wasn’t saving any money at all. Did he save all the money for a substantial investment in the last year?
Take his compliment, that Caruana Galizia produced some world class journalism. The moment you ask which story would that be — Panamagate? Vitals Global Healthcare? the shaky nature of the Electrogas consortium? — the spotlight is once more on his governance. There is no other world class story he can allude to without naming one that he ignored as prime minister.
Take his charge that the inquiry was ignoring the Opposition, and Caruana Galizia’s charges of money-laundering in connection with Adrian Delia. The fact is that FBI court testimony in 2018 stated that the only two tests between the trigger phones took place by mid-August — that is, before Caruana Galizia broke her story on Delia.
If you’re being chased by a new prime minister to finish quickly, it makes sense to prioritise what happened before the trigger phones were tested.
In fact, Muscat was peddling hard to reframe the obstinate hard facts surrounding Caruana Galizia’s key stories and how he treated her.
Why does he say now that he was mistaken in sacking Manuel Mallia and Michael Falzon prior to 2016? So that his refusal to sack Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri does not stick out. Instead, they become part of a longer list of “misjudgements”.
But look closer at the cases of Mallia and Falzon. Is he seriously suggesting that he could have left Falzon in office but then still personally sue Marco Gaffarena for a return of the scandalously traded property? It would have made the case more laughable than it was.
Freedom of information? Ask any media house: it’s respected in the breach.
He’s against hate groups? He allowed them to retain the Labour brand in their name. And he continued to let their colonels receive their paycheques for their day job at his office.
He stands for good governance? Which corporation, let alone government, would allow a communication aide, like Bedingfield, to speak “in his own name” when, everywhere, good governance means that as long as you work for such an institution you speak only in its name?
He couldn’t make a right judgement on Panamagate because of the Egrant allegations? That makes no sense. When he demoted Mizzi, at end-April 2016, he had learned nothing that was not revealed by Caruana Galizia in February. But he had responded to her allegations by saying he knew of every single detail — and he assured us there was no problem.
Above all, there is the matter of him saying that Caruana Galizia was the real Opposition. This is the closest he got to crowing aloud.
In fact, it was he, pre-2013, who had worked on making Caruana Galizia’s voice identified with the voice of the Nationalist Party. He was helped by a serious weakness in the PN’s own voice — but he ran with it.
The man who says he didn’t target journalists built up one journalist as a legitimate political target. It doesn’t mean it necessarily led to the assassination, but it did mean that it became more difficult for her to be seen outside in public.
Muscat says she became politically irrelevant after Delia became PN leader. Once more he’s reframing the narrative. She became isolated… while remaining dangerously relevant because of stories she might yet break.
That’s the crux of the inquiry: did the State contribute to the growing isolation of a journalist who was becoming more dangerous to powerful interests?
Please do not think I’m suggesting the emperor has no clothes. He has a very fine, beautiful watch, resplendent and magical and, as he so often tells us, on his watch we can read all that he did for us.