Trump nominee suggests Trump’s Ukraine scheme went too far

Updated

A few weeks ago, when Donald Trump nominated Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan to serve as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, the choice was not without controversy. Sullivan has acknowledged, for example, that he could have done more to protect career officials at the State Department from political retaliation.

But interest in Sullivan’s perspective grew as the White House’s Ukraine scandal intensified and focus shifted to the State Department. This made it all the more notable when he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday for his confirmation hearing and confirmed, among other things, that former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch served “admirably and capably” when Team Trump ousted her as part of a political scheme. Similarly, Sullivan testified that Rudy Giuliani helped lead a smear campaign against Yovanovitch.

But there was something else the nominee said yesterday that jumped out at me.

At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) asked Sullivan broadly whether it was okay to ask foreign governments to investigate domestic political opponents.

“Soliciting investigations into a domestic political opponent – I don’t think that would be in accord with our values,” Sullivan said. He added later: “The concept of investigating a political rival … that would be inconsistent with our values.”

Sullivan did not specifically reference Donald Trump by name in this context, but there can be no doubt that the Republican solicited foreign investigations into a domestic political opponent: Trump literally stood on the South Lawn of the White House and did this on camera.

Which means, of course, that Trump’s nominee to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Russia believes the president who nominated him – his current boss – took steps that are not “in accord” with American values.

All of which leads to two questions.

First, if Trump’s own deputy secretary of State can say it’s wrong to solicit foreign investigations into a domestic political opponent, why can’t Republican members of Congress – I’m looking in your direction, Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Colorado’s Cory Gardner – say the same thing?

And second, in the wake of Sullivan making these comments, are we sure he’s still Trump’s choice for the diplomatic post? Keep in mind, when Neil Gorsuch said he disagreed with the Republican president’s attacks on the federal judiciary, Trump questioned his “loyalty” and told aides he was tempted to rescind the judge’s Supreme Court nomination.

If Sullivan’s nomination is pulled, I guess we’ll know why.