More delays in ambassador nominations, trainings

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  • The training delay reflect the slow pace with which Trump is filling the positions
  • Donors are expectant and impatient

Washington (CNN)The State Department has delayed its planned training sessions for new ambassadors as an appointment bottleneck frustrates donors and allies of President Donald Trump who expect plum postings overseas.

The sessions, meant to train new prospective diplomats who are successfully vetted by the White House, were originally slated to begin this month, but have since been rescheduled to May, according to a person briefed on the process. Friends of Trump have been lobbying him at places like Mar-a-Lago in Florida and at private fundraisers for positions in Western Europe or the Caribbean.
But the training delay reflects the slow pace with which Trump is filling the ambassadorial positions, which typically are rewards to key supporters. With so few new ambassadors -- only one has been confirmed, Israel's David Friedman, and only four others have been nominated -- there is little sense in an April training.
The State Department referred CNN to the White House, which did not respond to requests for comment.
The Trump administration still has yet to name several deputy secretaries for Cabinet agencies -- higher priority appointments -- and the vetting process for new envoys can take up to three months. The incoming Obama administration left several high-profile postings vacant for many months at its outset. So most of these postings may be vacant for the forseeable future.
But donors are expectant and impatient, especially with an investigative vetting process that can ask wealthy Trump supporters to divest or take other steps to avoid conflicts of interest.
Already one candidate, Kelly Knight, a Republican fundraiser thought to be the choice for ambassador to Canada, has faced questions on the energy-rich company given her husband, coal magnate Joe Craft, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.
Trump is "so overwhelmed" by the incoming requests from donors and other friends who claim he promised them various postings, the person said.
That's partially why Vice President Mike Pence's office and his political aide Nick Ayers have taken over much of the ambassadorship process, according to a second person familiar with the dynamic. In recent weeks, the roster of possible names has begun to expand.
Yet so far, only Friedman has been confirmed. Trump has said he plans to send New York Jets owner Woody Johnson to the United Kingdom; Tennessee power-broker Bill Hagerty to Japan; and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to China.
K.T. McFarland, the one-time top deputy to ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn, has accepted the US ambassadorship to Singapore.
Branstad's office attributed the delay to the White House and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which approves the nominations but has yet to set a hearing date, although he has submitted relevant paperwork.
Other deployment plans include sending former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to Russia and San Diego developer Doug Manchester to the Bahamas. Names are also circulating for postings in Italy, France, Spain, Ireland and The Netherlands.