President Donald Trump has tapped veteran diplomat and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia, the White House said Tuesday.
The announcement came amid swirling controversy and multiple investigations into allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to win the 2016 election.
Huntsman, 57, previously served as US ambassador to China and Singapore.
If confirmed by the US Senate, Huntsman would venture to Moscow for a job that will be particularly high-profile as a special counsel in Washington probes the ever-growing Russia scandal plaguing the White House.
As a candidate, Trump criticized Huntsman, a fluent Mandarin speaker, for letting China do “a major number on the US” during his time in Beijing under former president Barack Obama.
Huntsman spent less than two years in that post before launching a failed bid to secure the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
A two-time governor of the state of Utah, Huntsman currently serves as chairman of the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank, as is a director on a number of corporate boards, including Caterpillar, Chevron, Ford Motor Company and Hilton.
The father-of-seven initially endorsed Trump for president last year, but later called on him to drop out following the release of a 2005 recording in which the former reality TV star used vulgar language to brag about groping women.
A moderate Republican, he was George Bush Sr’s ambassador to Singapore from 1992-93 — becoming the youngest American to hold the post of ambassador in more than 100 years.
He served as a deputy trade representative under George W. Bush’s administration from 2001-2003 where he helped negotiate several pacts with China.
He then resigned to run for governor of Utah, a heavily Mormon state with which he shares religious ties, winning with 78 percent of the vote when he stood a second time.
Former president Barack Obama reached across party lines to name Huntsman his ambassador to China in 2009, a position he held until 2011, when he left to launch a presidential run against his former boss.
The Trump administration has been besieged by allegations that the president’s closest advisors colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.
Trump’s eldest son Donald Jr recently released emails showing he held a meeting during the campaign with Kremlin-connected figures, hoping to get dirt on his dad’s election rival Hillary Clinton.
The controversy grew Tuesday after the White House revealed the US leader had an additional, previously undisclosed chat with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at this month’s G20 summit in Hamburg, raising questions about what the pair talked about, who was present and why the meeting was not previously mentioned.
Meanwhile the State Department said Tuesday it had held “tough, forthright” talks with Russian officials over access to diplomatic compounds in the United States that were suspended by Obama.