Trump allies, donors play the ambassador parlor game

Huntsman in talks to be ambassador to Russia
Huntsman in talks to be ambassador to Russia

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Story highlights

  • San Diego developer Manchester has told associates he will be ambassador to The Bahamas
  • A Texan in the running for a possible top ambassadorship is Ryan Sitton

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump's administration is moving gingerly in filling the hundreds of open US ambassador positions, a pace that is surprising to some of the very people who are seeking appointments.

Donors and others close to the winning campaign typically eye plush postings in Western Europe or the Caribbean, and the coterie of Trump donors are seeking the same.
San Diego developer Doug Manchester has already told associates that he landed one of the gigs -- as the envoy to The Bahamas -- CNN has learned. Manchester and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But multiple people briefed on the appointment process described it as unusually slow, partially because of the delay in confirming key members of Trump's Cabinet. Yet the ambassadorship parlor game nevertheless has the donor community abuzz, with the few Republican fundraisers who went to bat for Trump during the election hoping for some rewards from their commitments.
Trump has only named a handful of people to positions so far: Terry Branstad, the governor of Iowa, as Ambassador to China; David Friedman as Ambassador to Israel; Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets and a top Republican fundraiser, as Ambassador to the United Kingdom, along with a few others. The assignments must be confirmed by the Senate.
A second class of supporters is on the cusp of a formal nomination: Kelly Knight, part of a dynamo fundraising couple with coal magnate Joe Craft, is close to being named as Ambassador to Canada, according to a person familiar with the appointment. Knight did not respond to a request for comment. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a top Trump ally, has also expressed interest in the position, according to a second person with knowledge of her interest.
Lew Eisenberg, the most recent finance chair of the Republican National Committee, is reportedly under consideration to be Ambassador to Italy.
Asked this weekend whether there have been any developments on his assignment to the country, Eisenberg would only joke that he enjoyed watching the "rumors" and that he considers Italy a "staunch ally."
Western European postings have drawn a wide range of aspirants, but perhaps none more than Ireland: Eddie Crawford, an Ohio fundraiser, is considered a frontrunner for the sought-after position, according to a person tracking the internal discussions. That person said another possible appointee is former GOP Rep. Pete Hoeksta, who is eyeing an assignment to the Netherlands; Morris Goldfarb, a New York businessman close with Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, is also said to be courting a posting.
Another possible European posting could go to Duke Buchan, a Florida investor, who has expressed interest in being named Ambassador to Spain. But Buchan may encounter some vetting "problems," according to a person familiar with the discussions, and a possible backup could be Janet Kafka, a wealthy marketing executive from Dallas.
A second Texan in the running for a possible top ambassadorship, or potentially as a deputy secretary in a Cabinet agency, is Ryan Sitton, a Republican elected official who sits on the Texas Railroad Commission. Sitton's name was sent to the Trump transition team for vetting, according to a person with knowledge of the process. A Sitton aide did not respond to a request for comment.
And Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China, is in talks to serve as the American representative in Russia.