Video: What happens when presidents make big donors into ambassadors
“I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees,” John McCain told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but not before he had eviscerated Barack Obama’s selection as the next Ambassador to Norway. Olivier Knox reported yesterday on the hearing in which George Tsunis attempted to answer questions about his new assignment, and in doing so displayed a stunning ignorance of the political situation in the country that will host him as our highest-ranking representative. In fact, Tsunis couldn’t even name Norway’s form of government:
Tsunis described Norway as having a president (“apparently under the impression that the country is a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy,” as the Local Norway’s News notes dryly). And he characterized the anti-immigration Progress Party as being among “fringe elements” who “spew their hatred” and have been denounced by the government.
That prompted McCain’s disbelieving answer: “The government has denounced them? The coalition government — they’re part of the coalition of the government.”
McCain, already flummoxed by the apparent inability of Obama’s choice to be ambassador to Hungary to list strategic U.S. interests there, closed his questioning with a bit of sarcasm: “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees.”
So who exactly is George Tsunis? This is how the White House describes him:
George J. Tsunis, Nominee for Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway, Department of State
George J. Tsunis is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chartwell Hotels, LLC. From 1999 to 2009, Mr. Tsunis was of counsel at Rivkin Radler, LLP and served as partner since 2005. Mr. Tsunis was Special Counsel to the Town of Huntington Committee on Open Space Preservation as well as Counsel to the Dix Hills Water District from 2003 to 2009. From 1998 to 1999, he practiced law at Goldberg & Cohen in Brooklyn, NY. From 1996 to 1998, he was a Legislative Attorney at the New York City Council. Mr. Tsunis received a B.A. from New York University and a J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law.
But Olivier found his true credentials. As a bundler for Obama in 2012, Tsunis raised almost a million dollars for the campaign, and donated $300,000 to the Democratic Party. Ironically, Tsunis raised $50,000 for McCain in 2008 before becoming a Democrat in 2009 after McCain lost the election.
Presidents have named big donors and bundlers to diplomatic posts for many decades. It’s an American tradition — one which should embarrass us, but it’s a bipartisan tradition, so it gets less attention as a result. Usually, though, the appointees at least make an effort to learn something about their new assignments before their confirmation hearings so as not to embarrass their bosses, or the rest of us. On the latter point, it’s already too late with Tsunis.