This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Washington • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is "in the mix" to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Russia, according to a White House official.
Huntsman, a one-time presidential candidate who was previously ambassador to China and Singapore, is in talks with the Trump administration to serve in the sensitive position. Some top U.S. officials view Russia as an adversary, one that meddled in the most recent president election, while President Donald Trump has sought a more friendly relationship with Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Huntsman is being considered.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported three weeks ago that Huntsman was being considered for a top job in the State Department, possibly as Trump's deputy secretary of state or an ambassadorship.
Huntsman declined to comment Wednesday.
A posting in Moscow would put Huntsman in one of the most challenging foreign policy roles as Congress begins investigations into Russia's potential role in the U.S. presidential election. American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia attempted to sway the election in Trump's favor in part by leaking emails from Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign aides, a point the White House and Russian officials have disputed. In reaction, President Barack Obama levied new sanctions on Russia.
Trump's first pick for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned less than a month into the job after admitting that he misled the White House about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States, which touched on those sanctions.
Trump had considered Huntsman as a possible secretary of state along with former rival Mitt Romney but instead picked Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has done considerable business in Russia and, in 2013, was awarded the "Order of Friendship," among Russia's highest honors for foreign nationals, by Putin.
The Huntsman family has had its own business ties in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, and Huntsman International LLC operates six businesses in the country, including plants creating pigments and polyurethanes.
Huntsman was involved in the family's early business dealings in Moscow. The chemical empire, led by family patriarch Jon Huntsman Sr., was among the first U.S. companies that sought business ties after the end of the Cold War. Huntsman Sr. withdrew his business when Russia slapped retroactive taxes and penalties on companies.
"Our intent was to create a microcosm of free-market activity in the Soviet Union," the younger Jon Huntsman, then-vice chairman of the Huntsman Group, told The Salt Lake Tribune in 1994. "Right now, the situation makes it too difficult to proceed. If the environment improves, we will look at it again."
Huntsman has viewed Russia with some skepticism more recently as well.
During his short-lived bid for the presidency in 2012, Huntsman said Obama's effort to reset relations with Russia is like a "Potemkin village in which we pretend the Kremlin is more of a partner than it is, more of a democracy than it is, more respectful of human rights than it is, and less threatening to its neighbors than it is."
He argued for working with Russia for arms control but said the U.S.-Russian relationship should be viewed "with more objective eyes."
In the 2016 presidential race, Huntsman had urged Republicans to rally around Trump as it became clear he would be the party's nominee, though he later suggested that vice presidential candidate Mike Pence should lead the ticket after a video of Trump making lewd remarks emerged. He's consistently said that Trump had a chance to shake up U.S. politics as an outsider.
Huntsman has also said he may run for office again. He has been exploring a possible candidacy for the Senate from Utah in 2018, and hasn't ruled it out. He's praised Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is weighing an eighth term, but also noted the GOP senator has served for more than 40 years.
Since his failed presidential bid, Huntsman has served as co-chairman of the No Labels group that seeks to push Washington beyond partisanship and also as chairman of the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank that has long been a holding spot for top government officials between administration gigs.
Editor's note: The Salt Lake Tribune is owned and published by Paul Huntsman, the brother of former Gov. Jon Huntsman.