Trump Nominates Businessman David B. Cornstein to be U.S. Ambassador to Hungary

Posted: 3:09 am ET

 

On February 13, the White House announced the nomination of David B. Cornstein to be U.S. Ambassador to Hungary. The WH released he following brief bio:

David B. Cornstein of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States to Hungary.  Mr. Cornstein is chairman of Pinnacle Advisors, Ltd and was previously CEO, president, and ultimately chairman emeritus of Finlay Enterprise, a billion-dollar NASDAQ Stock Exchange Company.  A native New Yorker, Mr. Cornstein served as chairman of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation and as vice chair of the city’s Economic Development Corporation.  He was also chair of the New York State Olympic Games commission and a board member of the Battery Park City Authority and of the Jacob Javits Development Corporation.   He has been recognized as Man of the Year by the Chemotherapy Foundation and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.  He earned his B.A. from Lafayette College and M.B.A from New York University.

If confirmed he would succeed Colleen Bradley Bell (1967–) who was appointed to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest from 2015-2017. We have to go back to the 1990’s to find the most recent career diplomat appointed to Hungary and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and that’s Charles H. Thomas (1934–1998) who served from  July 2, 1990–January 11, 1994. Note that career diplomat Mark A. Goodfriend (1957–) served as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim from September 2013–January 2015.  Other appointees who served in Budapest include George H. Walker (1931–)Herbert Claiborne Pell (1884–1961), and Martin Joseph Anthony Hillenbrand (1915–2005)

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Photo of the Day: Amb. Bell With Team USA at the U.S.-Hungary Water Polo Match

Posted: 00:54 EST
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Via US Embassy Budapest:

Ambassador Colleen Bell at the U.S.-Hungary Water Polo Match. See related story over at the USA Water Polo website.

US Embassy Hungary| Amb Bell and US team 2015

Dr. Dénes Kemény of the Hungarian Water Polo Federation (http://ow.ly/J3r6T), invited Ambassador Colleen Bell to be his guest during last night’s match between the U.S. and Hungary at the 2015 Volvo Cup. The American team (http://ow.ly/J3rbu) lost to their Hungarian hosts, but they played a great game according to the US Embassy! Photo by US Embassy Budapest/FB

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To Hungary, to Hungary in January — Ambassador Bell sworn-in

— Domani Spero
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We don’t know who administered the oath of office, it looks like that official was cut off from the photo below except for his arm. According to the official schedule, the swearing-in ceremony at the Department of State was attended by Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin but it was otherwise closed to the press.

The Daily Show: Inglurious Ambassaders and an Earnest Spox

— Domani Spero
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Ouchy!  The new ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary just made it to Comedy Central but perhaps the best feature was the WH spox, Josh Earnest who dodged with “Frankly, I was not part of this decision-making process.”

Jon Stewart rips: “That is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen the president’s press secretary do. His entire job — his only job — is built around trying not to go, ‘Hey, look, I just fucking work here.’ But that’s what he did.”

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click on image to view the video

We hate to think what this would look like if/when that fellow for Norway gets the Senate nod. We’ll have The Daily Show trampling on the salad bowl.

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US Embassy Hungary: A well managed, productive mission awaits Ambassador Colleen Bell

— Domani Spero
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So apparently, Senator John McCain led a CODEL to the Munich Security Conference a couple weeks back last February and made a four-hour side trip to Budapest. Bloomberg View’s Jeffrey Goldberg writes that, he suspect, though he could not prove it, that the good senator from Arizona decided to meet with two dozen Hungarian journalists in Budapest mainly so that the delegation would be asked questions about a woman named Colleen Bell.

Who is Colleen Bell? Bell is a soap opera producer — “The Bold and the Beautiful” is her masterwork — who was nominated by Barack Obama’s administration to serve as U.S. ambassador to Hungary. Bell, one of Obama’s larger fundraising “bundlers,” bought this nomination with more than $500,000 of mostly other people’s money.
[…]
In Budapest, they’re highly interested in her. When a reporter, early in the press conference, asked McCain about Bell, a devilish smile played across his face.

“We’re very fortunate,” he said, “to have with us today the chairman of the committee that holds the hearings that these nominees come before, and that is Senator Murphy, and he is very knowledgeable about these issues.”

Three things then happened. First, most everyone at the press conference laughed. Second, one of the people who didn’t laugh, the aforementioned Senator Chris Murphy, a freshman Democrat from Connecticut, approached the podium as if it were covered in rat poison. Third, McCain winked — not at all subtly — at the three American journalists sitting in the front row.

This is a pretty hilarious piece, although definitely not/not hilarious if you are Colleen Bell. Just imagine being in her shoes — you have yet to arrived at your host country and a couple dozen journalists who presumably will cover your tenure in Budapest, were already laughing at your expense.

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Reax via Twitter:

NYT’s Mark Leibovich, author of This Town, Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital says:

FP’s David Rothkopf thought this is bad news but ….

World News Tonight ponders the how:

Fox News talks credentials:

WaPo’s Daniel W. Drezner reacts to WH spox spin about this nominee. Really a bad sign when the spox pulls out the “I wasn’t part of this decision process” excuse.  The dudester is … who the heck expects the spokesman, even of the White House to be involved in the deliberation of ambassadorships?

Oh, John McCain. The former straight talker, and former presidential contender, is apparently not happy about this nominee according to ABC News. Although, we’re not sure if the senator has been happy about anything since 2008.

“We’re about to vote on a totally unqualified individual to be ambassador to a nation which is very important to our national security interests,” he said.

“I am not against political appointees … but here we are, a nation that’s on the verge of seceded its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator getting in bed with Vladimir Putin and we’re gonna send the producer of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ as our ambassador,” McCain said. (via)

 

Isn’t our capital city just the most marvelously enchanting reality show ever?

But there’s more.

Today, Reuters is reporting that Hungary’s Foreign Ministry summoned Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest over comments made by Senator McCain on Tuesday, calling Prime Minister Viktor Orban a “neo-fascist dictator.”

This, we suspect, will not/not be a boring tour. The next time Senator McCain rants about Hungary, the MFA will be calling in the new ambassador. It would certainly help smooth relations if she is likable instead of grouchy.

In any case, Ambassador-designate Colleen Bell, the producer of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ will officially be our top American representative in Hungary once that country accepts her credentials. You may not like that, but the Senate confirmed her nomination and she’s one of ours now.  She will not only be the chief of mission at our embassy in Hungary, she will also be responsible for foreign service and other agency personnel and their family members at post. Embassy Budapest employs 95 Americans and 232 locally employed (LE) staff members, servicing five agencies. The total mission funding for FY 2013 was $17.5 million, which includes Department of State (Department) funding of $11.5 million and excludes U.S. direct-hire salaries. The total bilateral assistance for FY 2013 was $1.8 million.

We hope that the ambassador-designate spent the last year while waiting for confirmation to learn more about her host country. She’ll need it.  She will be America’s face in a country where the elected government doesn’t have a lot of fondness for America.  She did graduate with honors from Sweet Briar College with a bachelor’s degree in political economy, a dual major in political science and economics, so she’s not stupid, despite a near disastrous confirmation hearing. The good news is — she’ll assume charge of a mission that has been “A well managed and productive, and led by a talented chargé d’affaires(CDA),” who arrived in August 2013. (The Hungarian right is apparently hoping that CDA Goodfriend would be recalled or replaced).  According to the OIG inspectors, Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend effectively leads a collegial and active country team and is preparing carefully for the arrival of a new ambassador.

So — let’s wish the new ambassador well in her new assignment and hope that she be a good steward of Mission Budapest.

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Cloture Invoked, Senate to Vote on Confirmation of Mamet (Argentina) and Bell (Hungary) Nominations on 12/2

— Domani Spero
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On Monday, December 1, 2014, the Senate voted on cloture on the Mamet and Bell ambassadorial nominations. The Senate previously stated that if cloture is invoked on either of the nominations, on Tuesday, December 2, 2014, at 10:30am, all post cloture time will be expired, and the Senate will proceed to vote on confirmation of the nominations.

  • 5:33pm The Senate began a 15 minute roll call vote on the motion to invoke cloture on Executive Calendar #892, Noah, Mamet, of California, to be Ambassador to Argentina;Invoked: 50-36
  • 6:05pm The Senate began a 10 minute roll call vote on the motion to invoke cloture on Executive Calendar #631, Colleen Bradley Bell, of Californina, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Hungary; Invoked: 50-36

According to the CRS, under a November 21, 2013, precedent established by the Senate, invoking cloture on presidential nominations to positions other than the Supreme Court of the United States requires a vote of a majority of Senators present and voting, or 51 votes if all 100 Senators vote.

Click here (pdf) if you want to learn more about this Senate procedure.

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AFSA Releases Underwhelming Ambassador Guidelines For “Successful Performance”

— Domani Spero

We’ve been hearing about the AFSA ambassador guidelines for a while now.  We were prepared to be amazed but frankly, given that AFSA has largely ignored the termination of ambassador report cards, we tried hard to contain our expectations (see State/OIG Terminates Preparation of Report Cards for Ambassadors and Sr. Embassy Officials).

Last week, the State Department’s favorite columnist over at WaPo writes, “The cringe-inducing performances in recent weeks by some of President Obama’s ambassadorial nominees have raised expectations that the American Foreign Service Association will weigh in next week with some revolutionary guidelines to revamp the nomination process.  Don’t count on it. Thoughtful, yes. Explosive, hardly. Our sense of the guidelines, which AFSA began working on last summer, is that they’re fairly anodyne suggestions, not a call for stricter criteria.”

According to Al Kamen, the AFSA board reportedly approved the draft guidelines on a 17 to 5 vote, with all four former ambassadors on the board voting against the guidelines, “apparently feeling the new ones watered down the 1980 Foreign Service Act’s useless section on ambassador selection.”  We also heard complaints that while AFSA has been working on these guidelines since last summer, the AFSA membership reportedly did not get a chance to provide comments and input until Friday last week. What the hey?!

Below is the relevant section of the Foreign Service Act of 1980

SEC. 304 – APPOINTMENT OF CHIEFS OF MISSION

(a)(1) An individual appointed or assigned to be a chief of mission should possess clearly demonstrated competence to perform the duties of a chief of mission, including, to the maximum extent practicable, a useful knowledge of the principal language or dialect of the country in which the individual is to serve, and knowledge and understanding of the history, the culture, the economic and political institutions, and the interests of that country and its people.

(2) Given the qualifications specified in paragraph (1), positions as chief of mission should normally be accorded to career members of the Service, though circumstance will warrant appointments from time to time of qualified individuals who are not career members of the Service.

(3) Contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment of an individual as a chief of mission.

We are confident that various administrations since 1980 had their own definitions of what “from time to time” actually means.

So what’s the purpose of releasing these guidelines now?  AFSA says that it offers “this Guidelines paper as a resource to inform the executive and legislative processes of nominating and confirming U.S. chiefs of mission. Chiefs of mission are the president’s envoys to foreign countries and multilateralinstitutions, usually carrying the title of ambassador. They lead our engagement with foreign governments and act as the CEOs of U.S. overseas missions and embassies.”

One retired ambassador who is not an AFSA member asked why ambassadors are even described as CEOs  since they are not — having no bottom line, no shareholders, and no board of directors?  Without all that, we wonder who gets to fire these CEOs to improve “corporate” governance at our overseas missions?

Some of the folks we know who are retired members of AFSA are opposed to the practice of appointing bundlers as ambassadors citing Section 304 of the FSA 1980.   Some see this issue as key to defining an American profession.  Others strongly believe that AFSA as the professional association representing career Foreign Service diplomats, “must–like Cicero–at least take a stand and call out the current system for what it is–plutocratic  corruption.”

Just saw WaPo reporting that AFSA “may oppose Obama ambassador nominees” but that AFSA President Robert Silverman reportedly also “noted that there may be a feeling that AFSA might not “want to get into the middle of a dogfight” while it’s in progress.”

Whose dogfight is this, anyways?  Does AFSA really think that these guidelines would change the current practice of nominating ambassadors ?

At the DPB yesterday, a reporter asked if the State Department believe that an association or the union for current and retired professional diplomats should have any say in the nomination process.  The official spokesperson Jen Psaki replied, “I’d have to check and see … if we have an official U.S. Government position on that question.” Prior to that question, she did say this:

“Obviously, the nomination process, as you well know, happens through the Executive Branch, which has been a traditional process, and input and thoughts comes from a range of resources. And certainly, we support freedom of speech by anyone in terms of what they view nominees should be able to – should – criteria they should meet. But again, these decisions have traditionally been made out of the White House.”

Seriously now, are you hearing what she’s saying?

AFSA says that the Guidelines are “drawn from the collective experience of a group of distinguished former chiefs of mission, both career and non-career, and from legislative and regulatory sources.” Ten ambassadors, all retired; including Ambassador Donald Gips, our former ambassador to South Africa who also served  as head of the WH office for Presidential Personnel.  In that role, Ambassador Gips managed “the selection of several thousand political appointments for the Obama Administration” prior to his appointment to South Africa.  The working group surprisingly did not include a single member of the active Foreign Service.   How well or how badly these missions are managed have a direct impact on the life and work of our diplomats. So we’re curious — how much input did the active membership provide in finalizing the guidelines that the association issued on its behalf?  

AFSA says that the paper is “non-partisan in nature” and offers the following guidelines:

Under “Leadership, character and proven interpersonal skills,” the Guidelines says “A key skill is the ability to listen in order to better understand the host country’s perspectives.”

You know that every bartender worth his/her salt, actually could do this one just as well, right?

Under “Understanding of high level policy and operations, and of key U.S. interests and values in the country or organization of prospective assignment,” the Guidelines says of the  nominee: “He or she demonstrates the capacity to negotiate, and has the proven ability to take on various challenges, including working with U.S. and foreign business communities and other nongovernmental interests, and providing services to U.S. citizens.”

One could argue that Mr. Tsunis, the hotelier nominated for the U.S. Embassy Norway can demonstrate this just as well. As CEO of Chartwell Hotels, LLC which owns, develops and manages Hilton, Marriott and Intercontinental hotels throughout the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states, he presumably worked with U.S. and foreign business communities and provide services to American citizens. Every. Single. Day.

The third item in the Guidelines is Management.  The President of the Garden Club of Oz, as well, “possesses experience in setting goals and visions, managing change, and allocating resources.”

The fourth and last item listed is “Understanding of host country and international affairs.“The Guidelines says of the nominee: “has experience in or with the host country or other suitable international experience, and has knowledge of the host country culture and language or of other foreign cultures or languages.”

Experience as a foreign exchange student count, right?

To be clear, your blogger’s household does not pay any dues to AFSA, so we are not a member of any standing.   But after reading  the AFSA Guidelines officially titled, “Guidelines for Successful Performance as a Chief of Mission,”we also had to wonder — what was AFSA thinking?  Yes, it is doing something, but is it doing the right thing?

In fact, we think folks could wave these AFSA Guidelines around to defend even the most controversial ambassadorial nominees.  Let’s try it.

For example, according to Wikipedia, Colleen Bell, producer of The Bold and the Beautiful, graduated with high honors from Sweet Briar College with a bachelor’s degree in political economy, a dual major in political science and economics. She spent her junior year abroad at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.   Scotland is not Hungary but that is a foreign culture, is it not? You don’t think this is enough for AFSA Guidelines #4?  Doesn’t it say on paper, “of other foreign cultures or languages?” She also produced the world’s most-watched soap opera, viewed in over 100 countries. The show serves 26.2 million viewers, including U.S. citizens. You don’t think that has anything to do with management and understanding of international affairs?

As a taxpayer with a vested interest in the effective functioning of our overseas missions, we have followed AFSA and the Foreign Service closely.  While we are not a voting member of this association, we would have wanted, instead, to see two things from AFSA: 1)  work on strengthening the Foreign Service Act of 1980 through Congress, who is after all, tasked to provide “advice and consent”on ambassadorial nominees under the U.S. Constitution, and 2)  work on the reinstatement of the OIG Inspector Evaluation Reports (IERs)  to promote accountability and successful performance of our chiefs of missions overseas.  The end.

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SFRC Clears Barber, Bell, Tsunis, Harper, Talwar, Rose, Gottemoeller, Chacon, Carroll

— Domani Spero

On February 4, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC)  cleared the following State Department nominees.

Robert C. Barber, of Massachusetts, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iceland.

Colleen Bradley Bell, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Hungary.

George James Tsunis, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Norway.

Keith M. Harper, of Maryland, for the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service as United States Representative to the UN Human Rights Council.

Puneet Talwar, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Political-Military Affairs), vice Andrew J. Shapiro.

Frank A. Rose, of Massachusetts, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance), vice Rose Eilene Gottemoeller.

Rose Eilene Gottemoeller, of Virginia, to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, vice Ellen O. Tauscher, resigned.

Arnold A. Chacon, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Director General of the Foreign Service, vice Linda Thomas-Greenfield, resigned.

On February 4, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs also discharged the nomination of Michael G. Carroll, of New York, to be Inspector General for the United States Agency for International Development (vice Donald A. Gambatesa). Mr. Carroll’s nomination was previously reported out of the SFRC by Senator Menendez on January 15, 2014.

We have no idea at this time when the full Senate will vote on these nominations.

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Ex-Diplomat With Zero Acting Experience Wants to Join Cast of The Bold and the Beautiful

— By Domani Spero

His name is James L. Bruno.  His LinkedIn profile says he was a Foreign Service officer for twenty-three years with prior experience in military intelligence and journalism.  He previously served in South East Asia, Australia, Pakistan, Cuba, GTMO and Washington, DC. He is also the author of political thrillers, Chasm, Permanent Interests, Tribe and Havana Queen, all available via amazon.com.  Now he wants to join the cast of The Bold and the Beautiful and try his luck as “a soap opera matinée idol.”  

What the hey?!

Off the bat, we can’t really say what prompted this ex-diplomat to want to join B&B.  But we should note that on November 6, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Colleen Bradley Bell as the next U.S. Ambassador to Hungary.   Later, we discovered that Mr. Bruno has written an open letter to Bradley Bell, the Executive Producer of the CBS soap opera who is also the husband of the nominee to Hungary. Mr. Bruno published his letter three days after the White House announcement.  Mr. Bruno writes:

“I hereby submit my application to join the cast of your wildly successful soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful. After reading about your wife, Colleen, a producer for B&B, being named by President Obama to be our next ambassador to Hungary, I thought, I too, can realize one of my wildest dreams: become a soap opera matinée idol.

Now, looking at my résumé, you might think, “Hmm. Very thin. No acting experience. No background in showbiz. He’s very good looking though!”

Mr. Bruno who at one point in his diplomatic career was Charge d’Affaires in Vietnam explains the compelling  reason for this desired career change:

“I’ll confess I haven’t watched a soap opera since my mother caught highlights of As the World Turns during breaks from housework when I was a little kid. But, having failed at getting my own presidential appointment to embassy Rome or Paris because political hack fundraisers always ace out career diplomats for these posts, I need to make a career change.”

Well, so there you go, some sort of non-foreign exchange, is it?  Mr. Bruno’s elevator pitch to B&B also includes what he can offer the show:

“…[H]ere’s what I can offer to CBS’s B&B. Hollywood and Foggy Bottom have much in common: plenty of contrived dramas, glitzy superficiality, fragile runaway egos, Machiavellian intrigues and backstabbing. I was immersed in this bizarre culture for two-and-a-half decades. It’s all second nature to me. And here’s how I propose you use it on your show once you’ve hired me on: write me in as J. Huntington Outerbridge III, an effete, conniving, snarky diplomat who sleeps with all the beautiful female characters while engaged in high-stakes diplomacy to foil nefarious plots by al-Qaida and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

Ouchy!  He did mention something about ratings “going through the roof” so that’s good, right?

Read his whole letter at Diplo Denizen – The American Diplomatic Spoils System, Part III: My Job Application to the World’s Most Popular Soap Opera. Try not to fall off your chair.

Anyway, apparently, résumés are also on the way to Ambassador James Costos, HBO V-P and current U.S. ambassador to Spain, and Ambassador Charles Rivkin, ex-CEO of The Jim Henson Company, and most recent U.S. ambassador to France.

Mr. Bruno calls it a “spoils system.”

He’s being diplomatic, of course and just want to be a soap opera matinée idol.

😉