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German president sorry for making threatening call to editor
Question of the Day
BERLIN — Germany’s president said Wednesday that his angry phone call to a leading newspaper’s editor as it prepared to publish a story about a private loan he had received was a serious mistake, but insisted he has no intention of resigning.
Christian Wulff, who was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s candidate for the largely ceremonial presidency in 2010, went on German public television to defend himself amid mounting speculation that he would have to step down.
“I carry my responsibility [as president] gladly. I took it on for five years and I would like to show after five years that I was a good and successful president,” Mr. Wulff told ARD and ZDF television.
Asked if he had considered quitting, he replied: “No.”
“I have not violated any law, either now as president or before,” he said.
The mass-circulation Bild daily reported for the first time on Dec. 13 that Mr. Wulff received a $650,000 private loan from the wife of a wealthy businessman and friend, apparently at below market rates, in 2008. At the time, he was governor of Lower Saxony state.
Months before he became president in 2010, regional opposition lawmakers asked Mr. Wulff if he had business relations with longtime friend Egon Geerkens, a former jeweler and investor. He said he hadn’t, failing to mention the loan from Mr. Geerkens’ wife.
Prosecutors have said they see no evidence of a criminal offense regarding the loan and won’t investigate.
But Germany’s largely ceremonial president is supposed to serve as a moral authority, and critics have raised questions over Mr. Wulff’s integrity and judgment.
Just before Christmas, Mr. Wulff apologized for not disclosing the loan in 2010. That appeared to calm matters; but on Monday it emerged that Mr. Wulff had called Bild Editor-in-Chief Kai Diekmann in an apparent attempt to halt the initial report on the loan.
Bild says Mr. Wulff tried to contact Mr. Diekmann but didn’t reach him because he was on a business trip.
The president then left an indignant message about Bild’s research into the loan on Mr. Diekmann’s cellphone mailbox and threatened legal action against the editor involved. He also contacted Bild publisher Axel Springer’s chief executive, Matthias Doepfner.
Three days later, Mr. Wulff called Mr. Diekmann again to apologize.
The episode led to harsh criticism of Mr. Wulff by German media and some opposition politicians.
After two days of silence from the president, a spokesman for Mrs. Merkel made clear earlier Wednesday that the chancellor expected Mr. Wulff to explain himself further.
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