German Justice Minister Fires Top Prosecutor Over 'Treason' Probe Into Journalists After War Of Words

from the escalation-issue dept

We've written a couple stories already about the ridiculous (and chilling) decision by German prosecutors to investigate the news site Netzpolitik for treason in publishing a couple of stories about plans to expand German surveillance capabilities and powers, with whistleblowers as sources. Things have become fairly heated over the past few days and appear to have just resulted in the country's Justice Minister firing the top prosecutor behind the investigation.

On Friday, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said publicly that he didn't think the investigation was appropriate and that he had told the chief federal prosecutor Harald Range exactly that. Following this, Range announced that he was pausing the investigation "for the good of press and media freedom," but then lashed out angrily at Maas, saying that his statements were "an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary." Details of internal discussions quickly slipped out into the public, after Range had told Maas he was intending to continue the investigation after an "independent" expert he had brought on determined that the documents revealed by Netzpolitik did contain state secrets.
[Range] said the independent expert had agreed that the documents appeared to be state secrets, as asserted by domestic security agency chief Hans-Georg Maassen.

Range said he had informed the justice minister of this but was told "to immediately stop" the process of commissioning outside advice.

The chief prosecutor said he had complied, but he added angrily that "to exert influence on an investigation because its possible outcome may not be politically opportune represents an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary".

"I saw myself obliged to inform the public about this," he added in a statement.

On the broader Netzpolitik case, he said: "The freedom of the press and of expression is a valuable asset.

"But this freedom, including on the Internet, is not limitless. It does not absolve journalists of the duty to comply with the law."
And... in response to that, it appears that Maas has fired Range:
"I have told federal prosecutor Range that my trust in his ability to fulfill the office has suffered lasting damage and therefore in agreement with the Chancellery I will request his retirement today," Maas told reporters in Berlin.
Maas also claims that Range's statement about Maas telling him to stop commissioning outside advice was "false."

The whole thing appears to have turned into quite the soap opera. Over the weekend, I had a long discussion about this case with someone quite knowledgeable about German law and legal process, who noted that the situation may not be quite as troubling as some are making it out to be, because all of this needs to happen in public under German law (including the notification of the investigation) unlike the American system, under which a grand jury can proceed with an investigation for years in total secrecy. And while the publicity around this investigation appears to be having an impact on (hopefully) curtailing and ending this investigation, it does not change the fact that the investigation happened in the first place, or the kind of chilling effects that it is clearly creating for journalists and whistleblowers alike.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2015 @ 11:05am

    What exactly does "independent expert" mean in this case? By definition, any expert on state secrets must be a high ranking employee of the state or at the very least a current contractor of the state. Either one eliminates the possibility of independence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Tom M, 4 Aug 2015 @ 11:28am

      Re: "independent expert"

      "independent expert" means Range called a friend and he confirmed its all great and fine. "independent" of the usual processes how experts are chosen that means.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 4 Aug 2015 @ 3:02pm

        Re: Re: "independent expert"

        "independent expert" means Range called a friend and he confirmed its all great and fine.

        I wonder if that friend is his CIA contact at the local US embassy.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 4 Aug 2015 @ 11:11am

    Whatever else, Range had no clue about his job description

    "represents an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary" -- no wonder they decided to fire him.

    The "Generalbundesanwalt" is neither a part of the judiciary, nor independent. He is the attorney of the acting government, not of the state, and acts on orders and behalf of the government.

    So given his rather delusional statements regarding his job description there is little surprise that the government did not care to keep him in their employ.

    That is not to say that particularly this government wouldn't be in sore need of oversight by an independent judiciary. But that's not the job of the government's own legal representative.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 4 Aug 2015 @ 3:33pm

      Re: Whatever else, Range had no clue about his job description

      "represents an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary" -- no wonder they decided to fire him.

      Indeed. That alone should've got him fired. That should have incensed members of the judiciary, and how could he then be expected to perform his duties? None of the judiciary would be willing to believe a word he said.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 5 Aug 2015 @ 2:08am

      Re: Whatever else, Range had no clue about his job description

      "represents an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary"

      This, by the way, is the same Range that had no problem NOT investigating the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst, the German equivalent of the CIA) for treason, even though there is pretty hard evidence the BND acted against Germany by colluding with the NSA. And the person who told him not to investigate was of course the very same Maas.

      In that case it apparently wasn't "intolerable encroachment".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tom M, 4 Aug 2015 @ 11:22am

    commissioning outside advice

    Commissioning outside advice are the key-words. Such cases cannot be outsourced to someone you pick yourself to get the results you need to proceed. There are processes for that and Range+Ma├čen complete bypassed them to legalize the rich set of anti-terror terror against journalists. Attacking the 4th power, bypassing juristicative, skipping processes the executive is bound to. Thats how secret survilance system work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2015 @ 11:31am

    So...I assume now they'll also re-evaluate whether there was "no evidence" to support Snowden's claims about NSA spying on Germans, like this prosecutor initially said?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 4 Aug 2015 @ 12:27pm

      Re:

      Uh no? If the government hadn't been fully satisfied by the abysmal performance of Range regarding the Snowden revelations, they'd have told him to do different. It's more than likely that he let the matters drop exactly because he was ordered to do so. His position does not have authority to act against government orders.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tom Czerniawski, 4 Aug 2015 @ 11:49am

    This is what the US should have done with anyone, and I mean anyone who called Edward Snowden a traitor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2015 @ 12:18pm

      Re:

      > This is what the US should have done with anyone, and I mean anyone who called Edward Snowden a traitor.


      A little more clarity would be helpful. Are you talking about...
      * firing
      * investigating
      * hiring as an independent consultant
      or * accuse of treason
      ... anyone who called Edward Snowden a traitor?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2015 @ 11:59am

    'to exert influence on an investigation because its possible outcome may not be politically opportune represents an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary'

    this is really no different to what is happening to Snowden. he didn't do anything to be treasonable, just that there was far too much going on, by the government and the security forces, under the banner of 'NATIONAL SECURITY', that the public didn't know about, even though the public was the main subject of the surveillance! its the same almost everywhere. the public are being shackled by their own governments, under the 'for terrorism' heading when in actual fact it's to make sure the governments know exactly who out of the ordinary people, is doing what! terrorism isn't going to bring a country to it's knees, but it's own people can. if those in power and control do what the public dont like, but know what is happening, where, who is involved and when because of the surveillance in play, the governments can stomp on any unrest before it even gets off the ground! it turns the nations into full Police States, controlled completely by the wealthy and the powerful, which is why we have had World Wars, but doing it bit by bit, bringing in laws that do the same as bullets but without the bloodshed, even though the devastation is the same still gets to the same point!
    i still think that all this started with the purposeful engineered 'Financial Crisis' because the 'remedies' in every country are the same. make sure the wealthy aren't affected at all and the ordinary people are stomped down and made to stay there, paying for everything that happened, even though they weren't involved in the least!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 4 Aug 2015 @ 3:18pm

    Soap opera?!?

    The whole thing appears to have turned into quite the soap opera.

    I would not characterize this as soap opera. I'd call it the German gov't remembering it's still an independent country and re-exerting control over its hirelings including the prosecutor, despite whatever special relationship its BND may feel towards the USA and its NSA.

    Bravo Germany. At least the German gov't still believes in freedom of the press, despite everything the USA has done to marginalize and co-opt its MSM. What's next, asylum for Assange and Snowden?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 4 Aug 2015 @ 8:05pm

      Re: Soap opera?!?


      Bravo Germany. At least the German gov't still believes in freedom of the press

      Uh, no? The German gov't believes in proper timing and choreography of shit storms and Range right-sharked them.

      He was supposed to throw the shit at the fan, not stuff it there. Too eager to see this particular batch stick rather than just keep tossing. Fingerpointing instead of double play.

      Game called because of naked emperor.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2015 @ 3:31pm

    to exert influence on an investigation because its possible outcome may not be politically opportune represents an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary

    Let's paraphrase:
    "to exert influence on investigative journalism because its possible outcome may not be politically opportune represents an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the press"

    Sounds about right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jake, 4 Aug 2015 @ 4:08pm

    The only thing that troubles me about this is whether it's really a good thing that a politician can fire a senior public prosecutor for pursuing a criminal investigation the politician doesn't approve of. The Justice Minister had a good reason to disapprove of this particular investigation, but what happens when a Justice Minister disapproves of an investigation for a bad reason?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 4 Aug 2015 @ 4:25pm

      Re:

      ... but what happens when a Justice Minister disapproves of an investigation for a bad reason?

      That's when Leon Jaworski steps in and calls Nixon's lawyers liars, and he's not going to tolerate it from them any more.

      IFF we're lucky enough to actually have a Leon Jaworski (or Kozinski?) in the house.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 4 Aug 2015 @ 8:12pm

      Re:

      "Bundesanwaltschaft" and "Staatsanwaltschaft" tend to work on reasonably separated matters in practice, but yes, this overall lack of independence has been cited by legal scholars as a matter of concern at least for properly being able to deal with cases of corruption/treason at high level.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 5 Aug 2015 @ 7:54am

      Re:

      Well, let's not overinterpret this:
      The only thing that troubles me about this is whether it's really a good thing that a politician can fire a senior public prosecutor for pursuing a criminal investigation the politician doesn't approve of.

      The politicians of the current government very much approve of the criminal investigation which has not been terminated but rather postponed. Now where is the point in postponing an investigation when the judicial questions have already been answered?

      Why, an "ongoing" investigation for "Landesverrat" is sufficient cause for nullifying the protections members of the press enjoy for keeping their sources safe.

      If anybody was actually worried about the freedom of the press, the investigation for "Landesverrat" would have been cancelled rather than "postponed".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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