German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her backing on Wednesday to President Christian Wulff, who has faced growing pressure to resign for trying to stop Germany's top-selling newspaper from publishing an embarrassing story on a home loan scandal.
The scandal is becoming a major distraction for Merkel as she tries to focus on solving the euro zone debt crisis. Critics say it reflects badly on her judgement as she pushed for Wulff's election in 2010 over a popular opposition candidate.
Were Wulff forced to step down, Merkel would face the difficult task of finding a successor and rallying her centre-right coalition behind a new candidate, a process that could take weeks and expose new cracks in her government.
The chancellor has full confidence that the President will comprehensively answer all remaining questions, deputy government spokesman Georg Streiter told reporters, adding that Merkel valued the president's work.
But given the outrage in Germany over his conduct, it is unclear how long she can stand by Wulff, an affable 52-year-old conservative career politician.
Germans take the largely ceremonial office of president seriously. The incumbent should be a moral authority who defends constitutional laws, including a commitment to press freedoms.
Wulff's office said he would break his silence and give a television interview later on Wednesday. This is widely seen as an effort to draw a line under the affair that has triggered calls for his resignation.
Wulff's trouble started last month with a report in top-selling Bild newspaper about a home loan at cheap rates that he received from the wife of a wealthy businessman friend when he was premier of the northern state of Lower Saxony.
It emerged this week that Wulff had left an incandescent voicemail message for Bild's editor before the story was published, threatening war and legal consequences if it was printed.
Several conservative allies and opposition lawmakers have turned on him in recent days, saying he is unworthy of the presidency. German media criticism has been scathing.
The overwhelming majority of the population can no longer take him seriously, Vera Lengsfeld, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), told Handelsblatt Online. No new revelations are required to be certain that Wulff must go.
Once popular due to his easy manner and mainstream views, Wulff was seen as a future rival to Merkel.
He even managed to retain his standing in the largely Catholic CDU after announcing he would divorce his wife of 18 years and marry a communications manager some 14 years younger than him.
Several lawmakers have already taken aim at Merkel, who was widely seen to have opted for Wulff to eliminate a potential rival. Wulff was picked to succeed Horst Koehler, who resigned as president in 2010 after drawing criticism for saying Germany's mission in Afghanistan served economic interests.
Her cold power politics pushed out a respected and experienced president and replaced him with a politically and personally immature career politician, Werner Marnette, a former CDU economy minister in Schleswig Holstein, told Handelsblatt Online.
The Sueddeutsche daily ran a comment saying Wulff was not president due to his own merit, popularity or moral authority.
Christian Wulff is president because the chancellor ... wanted him to be. If there is a rudimentary cause and effect principle, Angela Merkel must be called to account.
The woman who made Wulff president must tell him he cannot continue. Otherwise Wulffgate will become Merkelgate.
(Reporting By Madeline Chambers; Editing by Noah Barkin and Peter Graff)