“I’m moving on,” the senator said yesterday, “into the real issues.”
But the clemency letters are a “real issue” and Mr Norris still has not revealed the full details of them.
Instead, he has appeared to obfuscate on the matter.
When he appeared on The Late Late Show earlier this month announcing he was re-entering the race, he spoke of “a letter” in the singular sense.
For example, he said that his campaign staff had resigned in the summer — thereby derailing his original campaign — “because I came out with my hands up and said, yes, I did write a letter ... they felt I’d concealed it”.
But he did not write just one letter — he wrote several, including letters to the then Israeli president and prime minister.
The one he has released was written in August 1997 to the judges of the Israeli Supreme Court, seeking clemency for Mr Nawi who had been convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy.
On The Late Late Show, Mr Norris said the following when asked why he had written that letter: “How many people in the audience would find themselves in a situation where somebody is desperate — they’ve committed wrong? And my reaction was, I was appalled, I was shocked, I was horrified. I knew nothing about it, I knew nothing about the offence, I knew nothing about the trial, I knew nothing about the conviction. And his lawyers asked me to write a letter and in my opinion it’s easy to be a friend when things are good.”
The presenter, Ryan Tubridy, was surprised by that answer, and immediately asked: “You wrote that letter knowing nothing about why you were writing it?”
To which Mr Norris replied: “No, I knew nothing until the conviction.”
Yet in the actual 1997 letter, Mr Norris wrote: “I was a direct personal witness to some of the peripheral events surrounding the case before it came to the attention of the first court.
“I indicated this fact to Mr Yizhak’s lawyers and requested that I should be called to give evidence. To my surprise, I was not called to give this evidence which I think might have helped the court to come to a more lenient judgment.”
He also wrote in that letter that he travelled to Israel specifically for “the hearing of the last case ... and was present in court when the case was heard and the judgment read”.
At a later point in the letter, he wrote: “My direct knowledge of the events surrounding the case is referred to in some detail in a letter of mine to Mr Yizhak’s lawyer Mr Bar Chaim dated 27th May 1997. Rather than rehearsing this material at this point I would be happy for Mr Bar Chaim to make available to the court a copy of my letter/fax to him of that date.”
This does not exactly seem to square with what Mr Norris said on The Late Late Show. It seemed from what he said on the show that Mr Norris knew nothing of the case until Mr Nawi’s conviction. The letter suggests a different version of events — unless the language Mr Norris used in the document was clumsy or omitted things for the sake of brevity.
Either way, Mr Norris should clear up the confusion by releasing all the clemency letters in full. He talks about leaving the public decide. But he is expecting the public to do so while knowing he is holding back information.
And if he gets into the race proper, there’s every chance this issue will continue to plague his campaign — unless he is fully forthcoming.