US Ambassador's Interview Causes a Ruckus in Germany

Richard Grenell accused of politicizing his post by expressing support for right-wing groups
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 5, 2018 11:40 AM CDT
US Ambassador's Interview Causes a Ruckus in Germany
In this Dec. 12, 2016, file photo, Richard Grenell, left, arrives at Trump Tower in New York.   (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

When Richard Grenell began serving as US ambassador to Germany in May, he was accused of offending his hosts on his very first day with a tweet about how German businesses should get out of Iran. A month later, Grenell has once again raised the ire of German politicians, this time over an interview he gave to Breitbart News. The ambassador's critics say Grenell is getting too political instead of remaining diplomatically neutral with comments like this one: "I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders," he told Breitbart. "I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left."

  • A hypothetical: Some German politicians are calling for Grenell to be removed from his post, reports Politico. It notes that former Social Democrats leader Martin Schulz tells a newspaper that "what this man is doing is unprecedented in international diplomacy." Schulz then provides an analogy: "If a German ambassador in Washington said, 'I'm here to strengthen the Democratic Party,' he would be thrown out immediately."
  • Context: Grenell is a staunch supporter of President Trump, and he has previously criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel's immigration polices as too lax, notes CNN. In the Breitbart interview, he said, "I think the election of Donald Trump has empowered individuals and people to say that they can't just allow the political class to determine before an election takes place, who's going to win and who should run."

  • Sample criticism: "A cardinal rule of diplomacy is that Ambassadors must not interfere in the domestic politics of the countries to which they are accredited," tweeted Nicholas Burns, a former US ambassador himself. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy called the interview "awful" and said ambassadors "aren't supposed to 'empower' any political party."
  • Grenell's own defense: He's accusing critics of distorting his message. "The idea that I'd endorse candidates/parties is ridiculous," he tweeted. "I stand by my comments that we are experiencing an awakening from the silent majority - those who reject the elites & their bubble. Led by Trump."
  • Merkel shrugs it off: A leading member of Merkel's party downplayed the kerfuffle, reports the AP. Grenell may not be acting like a typical ambassador, but "if the American ambassador understands his work a little differently, it's up to him," says Volker Kauder. "You have to take it how it is."
  • Clarification sought: Despite the muted response from Merkel's political circle, the German foreign ministry has asked Grenell to clarify his remarks, reports the Guardian. "The question to ask is whether Grenell in his Breitbart interview was explaining the US government's position, or that of the Republican party," says James Bindenagel, who worked in the German US embassy in the 1990s.
  • 'Rock star': Another part of the interview drawing attention is Grenell's praise of Austria's far-right chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, who's a fierce critic of lenient immigration policies, per CNN. Grenell called Kurz a "rock star" and said he is a "big fan." In fact, Grenell has invited Kurz to lunch at the US embassy in Berlin next week, which Reuters describes as a "further breach of protocol" given Kurz's vocal criticism of Merkel's refugee policies.
(Read more Richard Grenell stories.)

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