What did the Chancellor know and when did she know it? I thought about a rift on the famous Howard Baker question from the Watergate hearings, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” when I read a report that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to be questioned by a German parliamentary investigation into the Volkswagen emissions-testing scandal and her lobbying efforts put to then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010.
Merkel had met with Governor Schwarzenegger in California where she lobbied he and Mary Nichols, the head of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to reduce the state’s limits on diesel emissions, which she claimed were hurting VW sales in the state. Sometime later, Nichols reported that the German Chancellor had said that the CARB standards were “damaging German auto manufacturers with its very strict nitrogen oxide limits.” Merkel went on to claim German manufacturers “could not achieve the targets for diesel vehicles in the current draft” and that the proposed targets “would effectively lead to shutting (the German manufacturers) out of the market.” For her part, Nichols said “It was very surprising for me that the chancellor even knew anything about the German manufacturers’ specific nitrogen oxide problems. I never experienced a similar intervention by a politician against our environmental laws either before or after.”
All of this led German legislators to want to ask the German Chancellor if she or her government knew about VW problems with their diesel engines. Even more specifically, because of her close friendship with the VW chief executive at the time, Martin Winterkorn, did the German government know about any cheating, the defeat device, or any other nefarious information regarding the VW compliance program? While it might seem difficult to believe a German chancellor would have such knowledge, as we know, presidents and other government leaders have known far more than they ever admitted to knowing.
So what did the Chancellor know and when did she know it?