Policy

Trump’s Ambassador Pick Says Russia Meddled in US Election

Jon Huntsman receives friendly reception at Foreign Relations Committee

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. arrives Tuesday for his confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become ambassador to Russia. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Russia was unequivocal Tuesday in calling out the federation’s interference in the 2016 election in the United States.

“There is no question — underline no question — that the Russian government interfered in the U.S. election last year, and Moscow continues to meddle in the democratic processes of our friends and allies,” former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Huntsman’s confirmation should be swift, with members of the panel seeking assurances that he would communicate directly with them on what the U.S. needs in Moscow.

Foreign Relations ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin said he would want to hear from Huntsman about security concerns.

“There have been, of course, incursions into listening devices in different places to try to compromise the U.S. mission, so we invite your assessment,” the Maryland Democrat said. “We want you to know that we hope that you’ll be very candid with Congress as to needs, so that we can work together to make sure those that are on the front line of diplomacy have the protections that they need.”

Huntsman, also a former ambassador to Singapore and China, was speaking at his confirmation hearing for his latest diplomatic assignment. 

The precision of his opening statement, including his characterization of Russian meddling in elections in the U.S. and elsewhere, drew immediate praise from Cardin.

Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who highlighted his longstanding personal relationship with the Huntsman family, asked about the prospects of members of Congress traveling to Russia once Huntsman takes over as ambassador.

Huntsman recalled a bipartisan congressional delegation to China while he was the top diplomat in Beijing that included Foreign Relations member Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican.

The ambassador nominee appeared to be talking about a 2011 congressional delegation led by Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, who was the Senate majority leader at the time.

“I would say that if we could maybe organize some such mission — bipartisan — we have some very important messages to send, and to receive. I would very much welcome that opportunity, as well,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman also testified that he would look forward to meeting with the Russian people, leaders of civil society as well as with people opposed to the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The term or title of ambassador, although it might get you into a couple of doors you otherwise might not get in, should also be seen as aspirational and tied to U.S. values,” Huntsman said. “I’ve worn this title before. I’ve seen when you actually express those values and go to the aid of those who are under assault from their governments, they find that there’s hope in what America does. And I’ve found that to be … our most powerful weapon.”

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