The United States’ ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, has made international headlines twice within a month of his Senate confirmation: first, when he warned German businesses to “wind down operations” in Iran “immediately” following President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions.
And on Sunday, when he told Breitbart that he “absolutely want[s] to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders.”
The remarks were widely seen as improper: It’s not ambassadors’ role to play politics in the countries in which they serve as American diplomats.
“I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left,” Grenell, a former Fox News host with a record of inflammatory Twitter commentary, added to the right-wing outlet.
“There’s no question about that and it’s an exciting time for me. I look across the landscape and we’ve got a lot of work to do but 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.”
He even name-checked a specific figure: “Look, I think Sebastian Kurz is a rockstar,” he said of the 31-year-old Austrian chancellor, a critic of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. “I’m a big fan.”
Kurz formed a coalition government with the Freedom Party, which has been plagued by Nazi scandals. Party chairman Heinz-Christian Strache is now Austria’s vice chancellor. He also claimed to have met with Michael Flynn in Trump Tower around the time of the 2016 election, something Trump transition team spokesperson Jason Miller denied.
The State Department did not respond to TPM’s request to comment on the Breitbart interview. The rest of the world did:
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) called it “awful”: “Ambassadors aren’t supposed to ’empower’ any political party overseas,” he said.
When I raised concerns to Grenell about politicizing this post, he personally assured me that once he became Ambassador he would stay out of politics. This interview is awful – Ambassadors aren't supposed to "empower" any political party overseas. https://t.co/i8oOhqEk5k
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) June 3, 2018
Post columnist Anne Applebaum had a similar reading:
The American ambassador in Germany has just implied that he would like to unseat the current German government https://t.co/VAihz6XtsU
— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) June 3, 2018
Following the uproar, Grenell defended himself on Twitter and retweeted others who did the same. He condemned the comments of a political opponent of Merkel’s who dismissed “Hitler and the Nazis” as “just bird shit in more than 1,000 years of successful German history.”
Read the piece, he doesn’t say anything of the sort. https://t.co/zTt0ejoXQ9
— Nick Short 🇺🇸 (@PoliticalShort) June 3, 2018
What’s wrong w you? Either you didn’t read the piece at all & are parroting what someone else told you, or you did read it & are lying. @RichardGrenell said nothing of the sort in this interview, & anyone who knows him can attest is not even remotely his intention. #smh https://t.co/GFYH9J6ePD
— Tammy Bruce (@HeyTammyBruce) June 3, 2018
Absurd. I condemn those comments completely. Don’t put words in my mouth. The idea that I’d endorse candidates/parties is ridiculous. 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. https://t.co/DjSX4SL3bf
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) June 4, 2018
In a separate Breitbart piece, Grenell is quoted again: “Donald Trump talks a lot about chain migration, and that is actually the issue here in Germany — it’s chain migration,” he said, adding: “Many migrants have been allowed to come in, that was the policy of Chancellor Merkel, I think she has suffered politically by not having a plan that was implemented properly and you saw a lot of political concern in the campaign about chain migration.”
Grenell has a long history with National Security Adviser John Bolton: He served as a spokesperson for several years for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, including when Bolton served as ambassador to that body.
Correction: This post initially referred to Jason Miller as Michael Flynn’s spokesperson around the time of the 2016 election. In fact, Miller served as a spokesperson for the Trump campaign and transition team. TPM regrets the error.