June 8, 2018 at 12:26 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Sen. Menendez seeks IG probe into Ric Grenell over political remarks

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) (Photo public domain)

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is calling for a State Department inspector general probe into controversial remarks made by U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest-ranking openly gay person in the Trump administration.

In a letter dated June 7, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) seeks an investigation based on comments Grenell made to Breitbart London, which quoted him as saying he wants to “empower other conservatives throughout Europe” and feels the conservative movement is energized “because of the failed policies of the left.”

The article also quotes Grenell as praising Austrian Chanceller Sebastian Kurz, a far-right politician, as the kind of leader he could support.

Menendez writes in the letter those comments “fall afoul of longstanding practice” of U.S. diplomats to avoid making political comments when serving overseas.

“U.S. ambassadors, whether political appointees or career officials, have long taken pains to avoid interfering in politics of the countries in which they serve by trumpeting partisan views,” Menendez writes. “Furthermore, while U.S. officials posted abroad have been careful to navigate the political landscape in their host countries objectively, they have also generally avoided publicly promoting political officials, ideologies or movements beyond the countries in which they serve.”

Grenell’s comments caught the attention of both officials in Europe and the United States, including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who said the ambassador should be recalled “should be recalled immediately” if his political statements continue. Leaders of left-leaning parties in Germany also objected to the remarks.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the State Department seeking comment on the inspector general request. The State Department has previously defended Grenell, denying he made political comments and insisting he “was merely highlighting that there are some parties and candidates in Europe who are doing well right now.”

Grenell has also defended himself, insisting he didn’t endorse any political candidates and was instead making an observation about the political climate in Europe.

It’s not the first time Grenell has made controversial comments as ambassador. Within a week of Senate confirmation, Grenell instructed German companies via Twitter to stop doing business in Iran immediately on the same day President Trump withdrew from the Iran deal.

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said Menendez’ call for an inspector probe into Grenell is “total hogwash.”

“Sen. Menendez contradicts himself within his own letter with the true quote from Grenell stating that he never endorsed any politician or political party,” Angelo said. “All of this hub bub is because of a poorly worded headline — if you read what Ambassador Grenell actually said, you will see that his words are without controversy.”

Grenell was confirmed to his post in April on a party-line vote after a protracted process. Democrats objected to the nominee on the basis of over mean tweets he made about the appearance of women and other comments downplaying the significance of Russia’s influence in the 2016 election

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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