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 TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' 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 TillersonOvernight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Kudlow says Trump 'looking at' reforming law on bribing foreign officials Trump called top military brass 'a bunch of dopes and babies' in 2017: book MORE. When Trump ousted Tillerson in March 2018 and replaced him with Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoCountries reach agreement in Berlin on Libya cease-fire push, arms embargo Trump Jr.: If 'weaker' Republicans only call for certain witnesses, 'they don't deserve to be in office' House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't 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.