Russia interfered in election, says Trump’s pick for Moscow envoy

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, President Donald Trump's nominee to be ambassador to Russia, said on Tuesday there was 'no question' that Moscow meddled in the 2016 US election.

WASHINGTON • Mr Jon Huntsman, US President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Russia, took a firm stance against Moscow and its interference in the 2016 presidential election during his confirmation hearing yesterday.

“There is no question – underline no question – that the Russia government interfered with the US election last year and Moscow continues to meddle in processes of our friends and allies,” Mr Huntsman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in his opening statement.

Mr Trump has at times questioned the finding by US intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the interference in an effort to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and ultimately help him win the White House.

Mr Huntsman, a Republican who previously served as Utah governor and was president Barack Obama’s first ambassador to China, said that while he felt confident his experience has prepared him for the job, he was “under no illusion” that serving as ambassador to Russia would be “easy or simple”.

“Our relationship with Russia is among the most consequential and complex foreign policy challenges we face,” he said.

Mr Huntsman noted that the Director of National Intelligence and the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency have all “come together in unison behind their findings” on Russia’s role. 

“I think that expresses where the facts are with respect to Russia’s involvement in our election,” Mr Huntsman said.

He also said he would work to ensure the safety and security of US diplomatic staff in Russia.

Moscow directed Washington to cut staff at its diplomatic missions in Russia by 755, or almost two-thirds, by Sept 1 following congressional approval of tougher sanctions against it.

“Despite Russia’s actions against US mission diplomatic staffing, the team – both the American and the Russian staff – continues to serve with professionalism and unwavering commitment under difficult conditions,” Mr Huntsman said.

Meanwhile, media reports on the probe into Russian links with the Trump campaign said that US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after last year’s presidential election.

The New York Times, citing two people close to the case, also reported that prosecutors told Mr Manafort they planned to indict him.

Federal agents made a surprise raid on his Virginia house in July. To get the warrant, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team had to show probable cause that the home contained evidence of a crime.

Mr Manafort is one of several close advisers who helped Mr Trump win the election and who are now being investigated as part of  Mr Mueller’s probe into alleged Russian interference in the US vote last year.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'Russia interfered in election, says Trump’s pick for Moscow envoy'. Print Edition | Subscribe