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Reports: Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. chosen as US ambassador to Russia

By Lisa Riley Roche | Posted - Mar. 8, 2017 at 10:56 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has agreed to take the post of U.S. ambassador to Russia, according to reports from various news sources Wednesday.

While Huntsman did not respond to requests for comment on the reports, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, appeared to confirm the move.

In a statement, the senator said the president "has made a wise choice in selecting Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to serve as the next United States ambassador to Russia. He possesses the savvy, grace and tact characteristic of our nation’s top diplomats, and I am confident he will continue serving our country well as the next ambassador to Russia.”

Citing two unnamed sources in President Donald Trump's administration, Politico said Huntsman is "in the process of submitting paperwork to accept the position."

The online political news source said Huntsman was officially offered the post earlier this week, as the Trump administration's ties to Russia come under increasingly intense scrutiny.

NBC News and CNN also said Huntsman is taking what will likely be one of the most high-profile positions in the new administration, and The Associated Press reported a White House official confirmed Huntsman is Trump's pick.

One senior administration official told CNN that Huntsman was tapped because he is a "brilliant guy," "tough" and understands what Trump wants.

Sending Huntsman to represent the United States in Russia can only help Trump, said Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, who oversaw economic development for the state under Huntsman.

"The issues with Russia right now are ones that have been dogging President Trump day after day. They are not resolving themselves," Perry said. "Selecting Jon Huntsman Jr. would immediately help improve the dialog."

Boyd Matheson, president of the Sutherland Institute, said choosing Huntsman would be a "very important signal from the administration in terms of how serious they're taking the Russia relationship."

Matheson said Huntsman "is a diplomat. He gets it. He knows the dance. He also knows the disciplines that goes with it. For the Trump administration, that could have far-reaching impact."

Perry said Huntsman isn't thinking about the political considerations of taking a position in the Trump administration, particularly one that is so high-profile.

"Jon Huntsman has proven in the past that he puts the United States above party," Perry said. "I don't think his filter is whether or not he loves President Trump. It is that he loves his country."

Matheson said taking the job carries "high risk" politically, but Huntsman likely wouldn't want to do it unless he was confident "there is a bottom to all these conspiracy theories" surrounding Trump and Russia.

"He doesn't need that job. I don’t think he would do it just on a flier with all of the uncertainty about the Russian relationship and all of the palace intrigue going on," Matheson said.

Huntsman, a Republican, had stepped down in 2009 after being elected to a second term as governor to serve as U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama. In 2012, he ran for president.

A U.S. ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and a trade ambassador to Asia under President George W. Bush, Huntsman had been touted for several positions in the Trump administration.

Those positions included secretary of state, along with former 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Huntsman was also said to be considered for the No. 2 spot under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

During the 2016 campaign, Huntsman urged Republicans to get behind Trump, but withdrew his support after a tape surfaced last fall of Trump talking in graphic terms about making sexual advances toward women.

Recently, Huntsman has expressed interest in running for the Senate in 2018, the seat now held by Hatch. Utah's senior senator, first elected more than four decades ago, has not said yet whether he will run for re-election.

Huntsman would be the first Utahn named to a key post in the Trump administration.

Perry said having a Utahn in the administration can benefit the state's relationship with the administration. Only 45.5 percent of Utahns voted for Trump for president last November despite Utah being one of the most Republican states in the nation.

"It has to help to some degree having a high-profile, well-known Utahn closely associated with the White House, Perry said. "And given the complications in Russia it seems like if Jon Huntsman Jr. takes this position, he will be a very important part of the administration."

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, was one of only a few elected GOP officials in Utah who backed Huntsman over Romney in the 2012 presidential race, and also backed Trump in 2016.

Hughes said he "could not be more happy" about the pick.

Huntsman, he said, "brings incredible knowledge, incredible diplomacy, incredible competence to probably the president’s toughest issue right now. Think about how tough that issue is to navigate and think about the caliber of Jon Huntsman Jr."

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Lisa Riley Roche

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