Trump to tap No. 2 State Dept. official as Russia ambassador

Trump to tap No. 2 State Dept. official as Russia ambassador
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash CNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview MORE plans to nominate John Sullivan, currently the No. 2 State Department official, as U.S. ambassador to Russia, the White House announced Friday.

Trump indicated in August that he was leaning toward nominating Sullivan to replace outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, calling him “very respected” after The New York Times reported that the president was expected to tap Sullivan for the position.

Sullivan was brought on early in the Trump administration and served as deputy to then-Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTrump sends nomination for Russia ambassador to Senate Democrats eye Pompeo testimony On The Money: IMF estimates US-China trade war to shave 0.8 percent from global economy | NY prosecutors urge appeals court not to block Trump tax subpoena | Turkish bank linked to Giuliani client charged with fraud, money laundering MORE. When Trump ousted Tillerson in March 2018 and replaced him with Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoErdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn Graham: I'm seeking to make Trump successful 'but not at all costs' Ex-Watergate prosecutor says evidence in impeachment inquiry 'clearly' points to Trump MORE, who was then serving as CIA director, Sullivan stayed on as deputy secretary of State.

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The role of U.S. ambassador to Russia requires Senate confirmation, but that’s unlikely to pose a problem for Sullivan, who was easily confirmed by the upper chamber in a 94-6 vote to serve as deputy secretary of State.

Sullivan came into the Trump administration with prior government experience, having served in various roles at the departments of Justice, Defense and Commerce during both Bush administrations. Sullivan also spent two decades in private law practice.

The leadership shuffle will afford Pompeo the opportunity to select his own deputy at the State Department, about a year and a half after moving into the position.

Huntsman announced in early August that he planned to resign as the top U.S. diplomat in Russia after two years on the job. It contributed to speculation he would mount a bid for Utah’s governorship. Huntsman is expected to leave the position this month.

If confirmed, Sullivan will inherit the ambassadorship at a difficult point in U.S.-Russia relations. Despite Trump’s desire to broker better relations with Moscow, both countries have butted heads on various fronts, including arms control and Russian interference in U.S. elections.

The announcement came just as former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told Congress of how she had been abruptly recalled from her post in April. According to her opening statement published by The Washington Post, Yovanovitch, who was testifying behind closed doors, told Congress that Sullivan told her Trump had “lost confidence” in her and “no longer wished” for her to serve as ambassador. The statement does not identify Sullivan by name but describes her conversation with the deputy Secretary of State. 

House Democrats called Yovanovitch as a witness as part of their impeachment inquiry focused on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.