Former Utah governor and U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman said Thursday that he is proud of the nation’s diplomats, including those who participated in congressional hearings as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
“They’re my friends and colleagues, including those on the National Security Council staff, and I have high regard for what they do,” Huntsman said, "and what they do is tell the truth and that’s why we rely on them.”
Huntsman, who recently declared his candidacy for Utah governor in next year’s election, was speaking at a lunchtime event at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. He said he has worked with diplomats for many years and considers himself to be one of them, and praised their role in building coalitions and maintaining international relationships.
“If our first line of preemption against war is our ability to negotiate solutions to problems,” he said, “then it probably would behoove us to have a few more diplomats and well-trained diplomats who are there on the front lines ensuring that we don’t go to war.”
During a series of hearings last month, several State Department, National Security Council and other government agency officials testified of their concerns and recollections regarding the president’s efforts to persuade Ukraine to launch corruption investigations into the family of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump during next year’s presidential election.
Trump has described the impeachment inquiry as “unpatriotic,” and repeatedly criticized the witnesses who agreed to provide testimony during those hearings. He even attacked Marie Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine, at the very moment she was testifying before Congress.
Congressional Republicans on the relevant impeachment committees have taken up some of those criticisms, accusing witnesses of being biased against Trump or adding to an unwarranted effort to overturn the 2016 election.
During one hearing, Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart described as "nonsense” the testimony of a National Security Council official who interpreted Trump’s request for “a favor” from the president of Ukraine as a demand.
“It’s nonsense. Look, I was in the military,” Stewart said. “I could distinguish between a favor and an order and a demand, and so could my subordinates.”
Stewart also shrugged off as “insulting” a question about whether Trump’s real-time tweets against Yovanovitch amounted to an attempt at intimidating a witness. He made the comments despite Yovanovitch directly testifying that she found the tweets “very intimidating.”
In an interview with The Tribune following his Hinckley Institute remarks, Huntsman praised the talent and commitment of the diplomats who testified.
“I would never question their patriotism,” Huntsman said. “They’re trained experts. They’ve served both political parties and multiple administrations and they swear to an oath of office.”
Huntsman said it is to be expected that a diplomat’s recollections and narrative would be questioned during an impeachment hearing. But those questions should not venture into the trustworthiness or professional commitment of the individuals testifying.
He said it’s not the first time the nation’s diplomatic corps has come under fire, and that he worries about the effect those attacks can have on the health of the U.S. national security apparatus.
“This obviously doesn’t inspire confidence in the ranks of those in the State Department,” Huntsman said. “But I have to tell you, the word ‘resilience’ comes to mind, because most all of them show up for work [and] they get their work done in the most difficult of circumstances. I’ve seen it firsthand.”
Editor’s note: Jon Huntsman is the brother of Paul Huntsman, owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.