Huntsman to Step Down as U.S. Ambassador to Russia in October

Nick Wadhams

(Bloomberg) -- Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, said he’ll resign later this year, a move that risks leaving open a key diplomatic post as tensions between the two countries continue to deteriorate.

Huntsman, 59, and his wife Mary Kaye want to return to Utah “to reconnect with our growing family and responsibilities at home,” according to a letter he sent to President Donald Trump on Monday. The former Utah governor said he’s resigning effective Oct. 3, a little over two years after he was confirmed, to give enough time for a successor to take his place.

But with U.S. lawmakers away until September, Trump is likely to have trouble naming and winning confirmation for a successor before Huntsman departs. Senators of both parties would probably press a nominee to strongly condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for interfering in U.S. elections. Trump has questioned official findings that Russia meddled in an effort to help him win in 2016.

Huntsman’s decision to resign was reported earlier Tuesday by the Salt Lake Tribune, which cited unidentified sources close to him as saying he’s weighing another run for governor of Utah. Huntsman, who was governor from 2005 to 2009 and ambassador to China under President Barack Obama, ran for president in 2012 but bowed out six months after announcing his candidacy.

New Sanctions

Despite Trump’s oft-stated desire to work with Putin, U.S.-Russia relations have continued to deteriorate. Last week, the administration announced new sanctions against Russia over a 2018 nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy in the U.K. The U.S. also backed out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty after Trump accused Russia of deploying a missile that breached its terms.

In the letter to Trump, Huntsman praised the hundreds of Americans who he said were working under “extremely difficult circumstances” to further U.S. interests in Russia. Trump provoked fury within the State Department when he thanked Putin in 2017 for expelling hundreds of U.S. diplomats “because now we have a smaller payroll.” Trump later said he was being sarcastic.

“Though largely anonymous, your team in Mission Russia is first-rate and every American would be proud of their work,” Huntsman wrote.

A White House official said Trump had received Huntsman’s resignation letter and the administration lauded his efforts to improve U.S.-Russia ties.

--With assistance from Justin Sink.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nick Wadhams in Washington at nwadhams@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, Larry Liebert, Joshua Gallu

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.