Trump to nominate Pompeo deputy John Sullivan as ambassador to Russia

Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, would replace Jon Huntsman, who submitted his resignation in August.
Image: Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan speaks to the press at the State Department on March 16, 2018.
Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan speaks to the press at the State Department on March 16, 2018.Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images file

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By Adam Edelman

President Donald Trump on Friday announced his intention to nominateDeputy Secretary of State John Sullivan as his new ambassador to Russia.

Trump made the announcement in a White House statement. If confirmed, Sullivan would succeed Jon Huntsman, who submitted his resignation to Trump in August.

The Senate confirmed Sullivan for his current job in the State Department in a 94-6 vote in May 2017, but he would face a new hearing for the ambassadorship. He would take on the role during fraught time in the U.S.-Russia relationship. Russia is known to have interfered in the 2016 election, and many experts believe it will try to do so again during the 2020 campaign.

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Sullivan, a Republican, served as the acting secretary of state in the weeks between Trump’s firing of Rex Tillerson and the Senate’s confirmation of Mike Pompeo as his replacement.

Sullivan's name came up earlier Friday during the private testimony of Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who told House impeachment investigators that Trump had personally pressured the State Department to remove her.

Yovanovitch said that after she was abruptly recalled from her post in the spring, Sullivan told her that the president had lost confidence in her, according to her prepared remarks.

"He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018," Yovanovitch said of Sullivan. "He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause."

Sullivan had previously held a variety of senior governmental posts in multiple Republican administrations, including general counsel and deputy secretary in the Commerce Department during the George W. Bush administration. He also worked as a Justice Department official during the George H.W. Bush administration.

The resignation of Sullivan’s predecessor, Huntsman, became effective Oct. 3., after two tumultuous years on the job.

The U.S. has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia and expelled the country's diplomats following the 2018 poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal. In response, Russia expelled 60 U.S. diplomats and shuttered the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg.

Huntsman also held the influential post during the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election.