The German national legislature must be reeling from the latest development in their quest to get Edward Snowden’s live testimony before their body. Early in May the German government blocked the personal appearance by Snowden before a parliamentary committee on the eve of Angela Merkel’s meeting in the US with President Barack Obama. As I wrote in an article then, Merkel handed the opposition Left and Green Party a defeat in denying Snowden entry into Germany to give testimony.
The government instead suggested that Snowden testify via questionnaire from his residence in Russia. It appears that Snowden would have been able to apply for asylum in Germany if, in fact, he had landed on German soil. This would have been a touchy situation for German-US relations- especially in light of the White House summit. In my May 2 article it was suggested that the opposition legislators required personal testimony from Snowden so as to avoid Russian influence on his testimony. Now another potential bombshell has exploded on the debate.
A US law firm sent a threatening letter to German lawmakers alerting them to the legal ramifications of talking in person with Snowden. The letter said in part:
’We are of the opinion that if Snowden provides classified information or documents to the Bundestag or to German diplomats who interview Snowden, such acts give rise to criminal exposure under laws of the United States. The United States would have jurisdiction to prosecute these acts regardless of where they occur. The fact that German legislators have immunity under German laws would not shield them from prosecution in the United States.”
The impetus for the letter is unclear. Some have attributed the Merkel government as retaining the law firm to write the letter in order to provide political cover and to put added pressure on the opposition. Such a move would serve to further strengthen Merkel’s ties to Obama. But it’s also possible that the law firm wrote the letter at the behest of the US government. After all, the US has the most to lose in any scenario where Snowden is given a platform for potentially even more damaging leaks.
The US might also have wanted to assist its partner, i.e. Merkel, in her denial of a Snowden in- person visit to Germany. One cannot dismiss either the background of the Ukrainian crisis and the desire to stand up to Putin who embarrassed the west with the granting of asylum to Snowden. The letter, too, could be construed as a reward for Merkel’s steadfastness.
What are the implications and ramifications of this letter? There are many and they could be great. The first thing that comes to mind is Germany retaliating against the US by targeting its legislators and diplomats if they step out of line. Then there’s the question of who could face charges under such a ruling.
Could anyone who has read news stories about Snowden’s revelations be implicated? Or should the media outlets that have viewed and reported on his leaks be culpable? What about bodies which have already received testimony from Snowden- the European Parliament and Council of Europe for example. Do they fall into the category stated in the law firm’s advisory?
Some things are clear. The German legislators and diplomats should be justifiably outraged by the law firm’s threatening letter. They should be even more angered if in fact the law firm was commissioned by the German government to write it. The circumstances call for an investigation. It shouldn’t be difficult to determine who hired the law firm.
While this is going on the clock is ticking for Edward Snowden. His asylum in Russia expires in June. Where does he fit into this global drama? Will Putin continue to use him as a thorn in the side of the US, or will he be sacrificed as a means of placating the US in light of the Ukraine debacle. It should be an interesting few weeks to see how this all plays out.