SALT LAKE CITY — In his first interview since returning to Utah after serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman Jr. talked exclusively with KSL TV's Carole Mikita on a wide variety of issues, including the political climate in America, his time in Russia and his future political plans.
“I just hope whatever is happening now in the name of impeachment and impeachment inquiry does not leave us worse off because we’re divided enough as a country right now,” Huntsman said. “I’ve seen impeachment before. I’m old enough to have lived through the Nixon years. And I remember the Clinton years. And what I remember is how very divisive these processes are and they leave lasting scars on our politics, and on our culture and on our goodness, as a country. And I’m, I’m concerned about the rush to impeachment. It would be a far better thing if we could leave our differences for the next election. Let all the facts come out. We do have a whistleblower who’s brought forward some information and that ought to be heard, it ought to be seen.”
Living in Russia for the last two years, he said, has brought perspective.
“If only people could see us how the rest of the world sees us,” Huntsman said. “They still think we’re a remarkable country when seen from 10,000 miles away. People love America, they love our culture. They can’t figure how we pulled it together in the face of deep division and domestic conflict, but we do.”
As an ambassador, he saw what the Russians did to interfere with our 2016 election and Huntsman said he believes we are still vulnerable.
“I’m concerned about interference,” he said. “I sure am, not just by a single country, but by several countries who have that capability. And several countries who have a reason to want to weaken us. They want to see us divided.”
Huntsman said that is what the Russian government does — case in point, Ukraine, where Russia literally annexed part of it — Crimea — in violation of international law.
“So, did we bring that up? Of course, we’d hit constantly,” Huntsman said. “Is Russia in a frame of mind to want to fix it anytime soon? I don’t think so.”
Huntsman described Vladimir Putin as shrewd but his time in office will end in 2024.
“We, as a country, should be obsessing less about Putin and Putinism and more about the next generation of leadership and the institutions within Russia that are going to be important to manage a stable U.S.-Russia relationship,” he said.
Though the government may be difficult, the Huntsmans said as they walked the streets, the Russian people were not and they will never forget them.
“The Russian people are beautiful, they’re brilliant and they’re talented,” Huntsman said. “And you’d walk around Moscow and you’d walk in front of the Conservatory where Tschaikovsky played, where Prokofiev was raised, where Tolstoy wrote, the list goes on and on and on.”
Mary Kaye Huntsman joined us and talked about the beauty of the Russian Orthodox Churches, where they would light candles for their children.
“We were just always amazed when we would walk down the street and see the way they carry themselves,” she said. “And they did smile more than people, people would say, ‘ beware, you may not be smiled back at if you smile at someone.’ And I thought that was not what we saw at all.”
As the Huntsmans left for Moscow, the political divide in America was big. Now it’s even bigger and the former ambassador believed there is only one way to get things done.
“Civility doesn’t mean that you’re giving in, that you’re caving in on your principles, not at all,” he said. “It simply means that you’re putting the interests of your country or your people first by getting something done. And what we see on display today is not the norm. It’s not who we are and I’m convinced it’s not what the American people like.”
What is ultimately most important, they said, is leaving a legacy of service for their seven children and soon-to-be eight grandchildren.
“We always asked them when they went to bed when our kids were growing up, what did you do today to make someone else’s life a little better? And I think they want to carry on with their own children,” Mary Kaye Huntsman said.
Whether halfway around the world or here at home, they want these images to be lasting.
“I hope that will be for our family members, a model that they can look to in their lives, and that they will understand the centrality, the importance of service and giving back as the purest responsibility that we have as American citizens,” Jon Huntsman Jr. said.
The Huntsmans said public service is uppermost on their minds, and Jon Huntsman Jr. said he is considering another run for Utah governor. However, he did rule out another run for president and said he does not like the showmanship side of politics and that it’s not for him.