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Big, Bad Wulff, by Josef Joffe

Big, Bad Wulff, by Josef Joffe

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Published by Hoover Institution
Appeared in the Wall Street Journal January 13, 2012.
Appeared in the Wall Street Journal January 13, 2012.

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Published by: Hoover Institution on Jan 25, 2012
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04/06/2014

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   w   a    l    l   s   t   r   e   e   t    j   o   u   r   n   a    l   o   p    i   n    i   o   n
 Jose Jofe
 
Big, Bad Wulf 
Hoover Institution
Stanford University
by Jose JoeJanuary 13, 2012 They were young and attractive, this presidential couple, and the media loved them. ThenFate took a cruel swipe at the First Husband. He had taken advantage, he was not tellingthe whole truth, and the press was going to beat it out o him. He would go down in anorgy o recrimination and selrighteousness.Bill Clinton? Yes, but also German President Christian Wul, a head o state with largelyceremonial unctions, who has been under re since last month about a personal loan hetried to hide rom the public when he was a state governor. The parallels should not be taken too ar. In Mr. Clinton’s case, the constitutional processquickly took over. The president was impeached in the House and acquitted in the Senate. The comeback was sweet: Mr. Clinton let the White House with the highest endoofceapproval ratings o any U.S. president since World War II.Mr. Wul aces a very dierent threat as he dances back and orth between publicapologies and legal maneuvers. The Bundestag isn’t even talking about impeachment,on which the Constitutional Court would have to rule. Angela Merkel, a ellow ChristianDemocrat, is standing by him. Public opinion is on Mr. Wul’s side, but the “don’t resignmajority is shrinking. The real menace to Mr. Wul’s political uture comes, instead, rom the press. Thepresident’s trial is unolding strictly in the court o published opinion. It is trial by media.Opinion about Mr. Clinton’s scandal divided along the usual letright lines, both in thepress and in Congress. But in l’aaire Wul, the rightish Welt and the letish SüddeutscheZeitung are suddenly in bed together, and the rest have piled in, whatever theirideological enmities. The Wul (orgive the pun) is being hounded by the whole pack:a kind o “national unity government” o and by the media. This is the news behind thenews—bizarre and worrisome at once.What has the man done? He is not accused o dispatching minions to ransack theheadquarters o the opposition party. Nor did he use the powers o his ofce to obstruct justice. Mr. Wul is no Bill Clinton, in whose case the acts provided ample reason or aperjury indictment.By contrast, Christian Wuls alleged “high crimes and misdemeanors” are o the pettykind. They date back to his days in Hanover as prime minister o Lower Saxony. ToA WALL STREET JOURNAL OP-ED
Big, Bad Wulf 
 
 Jose Jofe
 
Big, Bad Wulf 
2 Hoover Institution
Stanord University
understand the local politics, think o Chicago in the good old days. Think about thegrat, avoritism and mutual backscratching that made the Windy City amous, thenshrink it down to scale: Hanover is just onetenth the size o Chicago.When Mr. Wul emerged rom an expensive divorce and went looking or a newhouse in 2008, he hit up a riendly couple, Egon and Edith Geerkens, or a loan o €500,000. He told the state parliament in February 2010 that he had no businessrelations with Mr. Geerkens, a wealthy entrepreneur, and that the loan was extendedby the missus.But Mrs. Geerkens reportedly had no money o her own at the time. And why wasthe transaction handled by a Swiss bank where Mr. Geerkens had stashed some o his cash? The hounds started snifng. So in March 2010, Mr. Wul moved the loan toBW Bank, a subsidiary o the staterun Landesbank o BadenWürttemberg, whichgranted him a very avorable interest rate. The plot thickens. BW also happens to be the house bank o Porsche. Both the carmaker and perhaps the bank were saved by Volkswagen, headquartered in Mr. Wul’sbailiwick o Lower Saxony. Mr. Wul also served on the Volkswagen board while hewas prime minister. The sleuths concluded that the cheap BW loan was a reward orpast avors. The stage widened ater Mr. Wul was elected president last June. When the scandalbroke out last month, the searchlight was cast back to the original loan rom theGeerkens. Mr. Wul was accused o deceiving the state parliament in Lower Saxony.You get the idea. It is a tale about who did what, when. It is about inerence andinnuendo. It is the oldest story since Adam and Eve: “He said, she said.” It is also aboutlowly stu, like vacationing at the houses o rich riends. Though the daily reportinglls a small library by now, even a ruthless bloodhound like Eliot Spitzer, the ormerattorney general o New York, would have a hard time winning a conviction. But thatis not the purpose. The point is to wear Mr. Wul down—to make him buckle and resign. The media’straditional task is to probe, unearth and publish—to act as a watchdog againstgovernment. It is not supposed to replace the third branch as prosecutor, judge and jury rolled into one. Nor are the media an ersatz church, complete with a laptoppacking priesthood acting as Grand Inquisitor and canonical authority laying downthe moral law.In the court o the press, there is no procedural protection, no impartial judge, noFith Amendment proscribing selincrimination. There isn’t even a deense counsel—

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