D.C. Law Firm Hired by German Government to Threaten Its Lawmakers with Prosecution if They Speak to Edward Snowden

Monday, May 19, 2014
Chancellor Angel Merkel stands among members of the German Parliament (photo: Markus Schreiber, AP)

Members of Germany’s parliament are still smarting over last year’s revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spied on German citizens—including the phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German leader, once publicly upset herself over the news, has chosen to mend ties with Washington, which would explain a confrontation between Merkel and lawmakers.


Members of parliament intent on learning more about the NSA surveillance have said they want whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose leaks exposed the spying on Germany and other U.S. allies, to testify before a special committee investigating the issue. Merkel’s government, however, is aghast at the idea of Snowden’s testimony, fearing it would only stir more trouble for the German-American alliance.


Officials have expressed their displeasure to the lawmakers, who refused to back down on their request to have Snowden appear before the committee—either in person or  perhaps by videoconferencing, as he exiled himself to Russia and risks being arrested if he steps foot in any U.S. allied nation.


Merkel’s government upped the stakes in the standoff and hired a Washington-based law firm to threaten lawmakers if they take Snowden’s testimony.


A letter from attorney Jeffrey Harris of Rubin, Winston, Diercks, Harris & Cooke warned: “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 the 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.”


Techdirt opined that the threat probably won’t sit well with German lawmakers:

“This should be deeply offensive to pretty much everyone in the German government—even if the letter was apparently commissioned by the German government. The idea that they might face criminal prosecution for the simple act of investigating how the U.S. spied on the German government is insulting in the extreme.”


Snowden’s American lawyer Ben Wizner told Der Spiegel that such a conclusion—that U.S. officials might try to hold German politicians criminally liable—is “beyond absurd.” In addition, he said, Snowden “didn't offer to reveal as a witness new surveillance activities that have not been disclosed yet by journalists.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

German Government Hires DC Law Firm To Threaten Its Own Parliament With Criminal Prosecution For Talking To Snowden (by Mike Masnick, Techdirt)

German Lawmakers Decide to Quiz Snowden (by Hans-Edzard Busemann, Madeline Chambers and Stephen Brown; Reuters)

Trans-Atlantic Supplicant: Merkel Chooses Unity over NSA Truth (Der Spiegel)

German Chancellor Confronts Obama over Alleged NSA Monitoring of Her Cell Phone (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Concerned U.S. Allies Want Privacy Guarantees in Wake of NSA Revelations (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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