State Department reporters were in a tizzy Tuesday over an exclusive interview U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell gave to Breitbart News on Sunday.
In the interview with Breitbart News’s Chris Tomlinson and Breitbart London Editor Oliver JJ Lane at his official residence in Berlin, Grenell expressed excitement over the wave of conservatism in Europe and said he wanted to empower leaders of the movement.
“There are a lot of conservatives throughout Europe who have contacted me to say they are feeling there is a resurgence going on,” he said. “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders. I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.”
“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.”
The comments sparked fury in Germany among Social Democrats, particularly from ex-Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, who led the party to its worst electoral result since the Second World War, and from Sarah Wagenknecht, leader of Die Linke, the successor to the former East German communist party.
Other political parties in Germany, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, have shrugged his comments off, while Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, a Social Democrat, is demanding “answers.”
German media outlet Handelsblatt went as far as to claim in a headline that Grenell was advocating for “regime change” — despite him not saying anything remotely close to that. After criticism, the outlet subsequently removed the quote from their headline.
The outrage spread to the U.S., sparking a stir among the State Department press corps back in Washington, who accused Grenell of being political and not representing the U.S. at a press briefing on Tuesday.
One reporter said Grenell’s remarks were “openly partisan, in which he is asking for conservatives to do well across Europe.”
“Is it the policy of the State Department, that ambassadors should be cheering particular political parties or movements in the places in which they’re [serving]?” the reporter asked.
Grenell did not actually endorse any specific political parties, nor did he specify Germany, only mentioning young conservative Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz as a “rock star.”
Another journalist asked rhetorically if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would send Grenell a cable to remind him of the “lessons that they learned in Ambassador school.”
State Department Press Secretary Heather Nauert dismissed their implicit criticism and defended Grenell.
“Ambassadors have a right to express their opinion. They’re representatives of the White House, whether it’s this administration or other administrations. And we hear them voicing their opinions. And they’re sometimes opinions that people may or may not like, and there is a right to free speech as well. So I want to highlight that, regardless of whether or not you all like it, sometimes these things are what ambassadors say,” she said.
“More voices should be heard rather than fewer voices, and that is important,” she said. “I think [Grenell] was pointing out a fact that some conservatives have done better in other countries, and I’ll just leave it at that, OK?”
A journalist then countered, “Which socialist voices should we hear more from around the world?”
“As an American, we believe in the right to free speech, that other countries elsewhere around the world have the right to elect whomever the population chooses,” Nauert said.
Grenell also said in his interview with Breitbart News that it is a “powerful moment” when a person can see past the group-think of a “very small elitist crowd” telling him or her they have no chance to win, or mocking them.
The “winning strategy,” he said, is focusing on conservative issues that improve life for ordinary working people — the silent majority.
Chris Tomlinson and Oliver JJ Lane contributed to this report.