When Gordon Sondland took his turn in the impeachment spotlight back in November 2019, the hotelier turned US ambassador to the European Union became the poster boy for President Donald Trump’s corps of deep-pocketed, politically connected diplomats. But the now-former ambassador was hardly the only envoy with a fat wallet and a skimpy resume.
Jeffrey Ross Gunter (Iceland): This California dermatologist and longtime GOP donor gave $100,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee. At his confirmation hearing, he reassured senators, “While I have never been to Iceland, I have spent a considerable amount of time in Western Europe, as my late wife was from the Netherlands.”
Callista Gingrich (Holy See): “As a lifelong Catholic,” Gingrich (who had an affair with future husband Newt Gingrich before he divorced his second wife) told senators she would be “profoundly humbled” to represent her country in the Vatican.
David Friedman (Israel): To be fair, Friedman, a staunchly pro-Israel corporate attorney whose firm gave $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration, does have experience with old disputes involving intransigent parties bickering over property claims: He helped handle the bankruptcies of several of Trump’s Atlantic City casinos.
Carla Sands (Denmark): The widow of a real estate mogul, Sands donated $10,000 to Trump’s 2017 inauguration bash. She’s also a former chiropractor and actor (credits include Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell).
David B. Cornstein (Hungary): The jewelry magnate and Trump pal flew in Paul Anka to serenade right-wing Hungarian authoritarian Viktor Orbán at the US Embassy’s Fourth of July celebration. “I can tell you,” Cornstein has said, “knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has.”
Duke Buchan III (Spain and Andorra): The investment banker and his wife together gave nearly $900,000 to a pro-Trump fundraising group in 2016. Politico reported that Buchan has complained that EU regulations made it hard for his polo horses to join him in Spain.
Lynda Blanchard (Slovenia): After her husband, John, gave more than $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration, this Alabama business executive was nominated as ambassador to Melania Trump’s birthplace. Before Blanchard’s confirmation, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called her out for posting “incendiary false articles” and conspiracy theories on her Facebook page.
Robert Wood Johnson IV (United Kingdom): The Johnson & Johnson heir, New York Jets owner, and Trump megadonor dropped $1 million on the president’s inauguration. He now lives in a mansion on a 12-acre estate in London and has turned his job into a British reality-TV miniseries titled Inside the American Embassy.
Pete Hoekstra (Netherlands): When a Dutch reporter asked the former Michigan member of Congress about his claim that some parts of Holland had become Muslim-controlled “no-go zones” where politicians had been set on fire, Hoekstra replied, “I didn’t say that…We would call it fake news.” The reporter then played Hoekstra the clip in which he said exactly that.
Richard Grenell (Germany): The highest-ranking openly gay official in the administration is known for his Twitter trolling and undiplomatic behavior. Prominent German politicians have called for Grenell to be recalled; one described him as “a complete diplomatic failure” who “damages trans-Atlantic relations with his repeated clumsy provocations.” He was rewarded by being named the acting director of national intelligence earlier this year.
Robin Bernstein (Dominican Republic): A founding member of Mar-a-Lago, Bernstein has promised to promote US business interests in a country where the Trump Organization has been eyeing development deals. She was mocked after the White House said she spoke only “basic Spanish”; her official bio now says she speaks “intermediate Spanish.”
Only 32% of Trump’s political nominees for ambassadorships in his first two years had any foreign policy experience. In contrast, 64% of Reagan’s political nominees did.
Traditionally, presidents appoint career foreign service officers to about 2/3 of ambassadorships. Under Trump, the number of political appointees in these positions has shot up.
Four Mar-a-Lago members have been tapped to be ambassadors. (Two declined to serve.)
14 donors to Trump’s inauguration committee were picked to be ambassadors, including million-dollar donors UN Ambassador Kelly Craft and Sondland.
Even as he hands out favors, Trump has been lackadaisical about staffing US embassies. As of early January, more than 25 ambassadorships were vacant, including spots in Chile, Honduras, Qatar, Pakistan, and Ukraine.