@USAmbNZ Scott Brown Gets Ahead of Bad News Over “Insensitive” Comments Probe

Posted: 12:31 am ET
Updated: Oct 27 | 12:44 am ET
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Stuff New Zealand reported on October 26 that the US ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown faced complaints over ‘cultural misunderstanding.’

US Ambassador Scott Brown has fronted over mounting “innuendo and rumour” about a State Department investigation into his behaviour. Speaking to Stuff with wife Gail Huff at his side, Brown confirmed there had been an official “administrative inquiry” into his conduct at a Peace Corps event in Samoa in July.

It is not clear if the inquiry is conducted by HR, EEOC or OIG (we’ve asked but have not received a response) but whatever it is, talking to the local media, bound to be picked up by U.S. news media, is a calculated way to get ahead of the potential fallout from a probe that has not been publicly known until now.

We hope he’s learned his lesson that he’s not just some ex-politician from New Hampshire or Massachusetts anymore. He speaks for the United States at all times now until he steps down; and as with career folks who are considered on duty 24/7, the ambassador no longer has the luxury of personal views, only official ones. For Exhibit A, see @StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”; for Exhibit B, see @StateDept on Amb. Friedman’s comment (again): “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy”.

Below is the official response from the State Department: 

The State Department takes allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate them thoroughly. We hold all employees to the highest standard. The Office of Inspector General has conducted an independent review of the allegations and reported its findings to the Department. Senior leadership at the State Department has been in contact with Ambassador Brown and he has been counseled on standards of conduct for government employees, which also includes Ambassadors.

So hey, while we’re on the subject of “insensitive” or “inappropriate” comments, say…we’ve posted about this and more related to Diplomatic Security. Has anyone sent in investigators over there to see about Special Agent Sticky Balls and what he’s up these days?

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@StateDept on Amb. Friedman’s comment (again): “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy”

Posted: 1:26 am ET
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On September 11, the State Department had to distance itself from a comment made by its top representative in Israel (see @StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”.  On September 28, State Department spox Heather Nauert, once more from the podium, said that it’s ambassador’s two percent comment “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy.” One reporter asked “if the perception that the ambassador to Israel has his thumb on the scale in the view of this conflict creating problems for the U.S.?” The spox had an interesting response that includes North Korea, and oh, maps.

Via the Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION: Ambassador David Friedman in Israel gave an interview in which he said that only two percent of the West Bank is occupied. Does that reflect the U.S. position?

MS NAUERT: So I’ve also heard about this report, and when you mention that figure of two percent, I don’t know where that came from. That came from some report. I have no idea which report that came from. 14 9/28/2017

QUESTION: It was in the interview. It came from his —

QUESTION: It came from his own mouth.

QUESTION: It was from David Friedman’s mouth.

MS NAUERT: Oh. Okay, okay. I thought he was citing a report or something. Okay, okay. So I’m aware of what he said. His comments – and I want to be crystal clear about this – should not be read as a way to prejudge the outcome of any negotiations that the U.S. would have with the Israelis and the Palestinians. It should also not indicate a shift in U.S. policy.

QUESTION: Well, do they reflect – oh. So it does – so his comments by the U.S. ambassador to Israel do not reflect U.S. policy?

MS NAUERT: I just want to say it should not be read as a change in U.S. policy.

QUESTION: Did he go rogue?

QUESTION: This is —

QUESTION: So is this —

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. That’s —

QUESTION: This is at least the second time that from this podium you’ve had to sort of clean up Ambassador Friedman’s remarks when he had upped the alleged occupation. Is this becoming an issue? I mean, even if it’s not a change of position, is the perception that the ambassador to Israel has his thumb on the scale in the view of this conflict creating problems for the U.S.?

MS NAUERT: I guess what I would say to that is we have some very effective leaders and representatives for the U.S. Government, including Jason Greenblatt, Mr. Kushner, who are spending an awful lot of time in the region trying to get both sides together to have talks about a lasting existence side by side. The President has made that one of his top priorities. And when we talk about top priorities here, we talk about the nuclear threat of North Korea, but also – the nuclear and ballistic missile threat of North Korea, but we also talk about this. And I think it indicates just how important this is to the President that he has put those two in charge of negotiating that.

In terms of the ambassador, I can’t comment any more for you on that other than to say our policy here has not changed.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds —

QUESTION: But when you say that – Heather, when you say — 15 9/28/2017

QUESTION: It sounds to me like you’re saying – that you’re telling – you’re telling the Palestinians and the Israelis don’t bother listening to the ambassador, listen to Greenblatt and Kushner.

MS NAUERT: I have not had the chance to speak to the ambassador, so I will hesitate at commenting too much —

QUESTION: I mean, the ambassador spoke —

MS NAUERT: Hold on – too much on what he said. I was not there. I have not heard it. I have not heard the context in which that conversation was had. But I just want to be clear that our policy has not changed.

QUESTION: Right. But the – but I mean, all that is fair enough, but the problem arises because he is the Senate-confirmed ambassador. Mr. – neither Greenblatt nor Kushner are. They’re just informal-type envoys. And ambassadors to every country are supposed to speak for and with the authority of the President of the United States. Do you not see that this is causing confusion?

And then as a purely factual matter, how much of – what percent of the West Bank does the United – does the administration believe is occupied?

MS NAUERT: I don’t know that we have a map of that or that we have —

QUESTION: You’ve got a lot of maps on that.

MS NAUERT: Do we have a lot of maps?

QUESTION: Oh, yeah.

MS NAUERT: Do we?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, see, you all pre-date me here. I’ll go pull out some —

QUESTION: Heather, do you —

MS NAUERT: — the dusty shelves.

QUESTION: You have many, many, many, many maps.

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Said, go right ahead.

QUESTION: I want to follow up on something else that he said.

MS NAUERT: Yes. 16 9/28/2017

QUESTION: He said that the two-state solution has lost its meaning. Is that your position? I mean, this is – it’s been the case of past U.S. presidents – I mean U.S. ambassadors in Israel to speak for the State Department and to report directly to the Secretary of State. Has he cleared that with the Secretary of State?

MS NAUERT: I under – I understand. The Secretary is on a plane right now. I saw him earlier this morning at the China dialogue. I have not had a chance to talk with him about this.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Ambassador Friedman’s current comments —

MS NAUERT: Elise, I’m not going to have anything more for you on the ambassador.

QUESTION: Okay, but will you – I understand. But you just said that Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner are working on this issue.

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And then you – or before that, you said that Ambassador Friedman’s comments don’t reflect a change in policy. So aren’t you a bit concerned that the ambassador’s comments are detracting or going to harm the efforts by the President’s appointed envoys on this issue?

MS NAUERT: I think I would go back to the meetings that the President held where the Secretary was last week at the UN, in meeting with Mr. Abbas and meeting with Mr. Netanyahu. And I think they know – I know they know – just how strongly we feel about trying to bring peace, peace to that region.

QUESTION: Well, they – the President told him —

MS NAUERT: And —

QUESTION: — that last week and that yes, they came across – they came out of those meetings last week. And now this week —

MS NAUERT: And we both came out of those meetings very, very hopeful.

QUESTION: I understand that.

MS NAUERT: And they both had said something along the lines of “We have” – something along the lines of “We’ve never felt like we’re in a better position to reach this goal.” So I’m not going to tarnish that in any kind of way. I think we’re still going forward with that goal.

QUESTION: But that was last week. And this week, the ambassador is coming out and saying something completely different. Has he been — 17 9/28/2017

MS NAUERT: Well, let me just say, to my knowledge, we have not received any phone calls about this just yet. Okay?

Said, go ahead. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up very quickly. I’m sorry. I just want to follow up, because today, the prime minister of Israel told the official news channel that he discussed with Mr. Greenblatt and with Mr. Friedman and, in fact, with Mr. Dermer, the ambassador, the Israeli ambassador here, that they – they want to close – he raised with them closing the PLO embassy here in Washington. You have anything on that? Do you know anything about that? Because I told the Palestinian ambassador. He says we have not heard anything; this is something that the Israelis are just saying they’re doing.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about that?

MS NAUERT: You know what? I’m not familiar with that report. If I have anything for you on it, I will certainly get it to you, but I can refer you back to the government. Okay?

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@StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”

Posted: 4:25 am ET
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Via DPB:

QUESTION: And my other question pertaining to Ambassador David Friedman, he gave us an interview to the Jerusalem Post last week, last Friday.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: And he termed the Palestinian territories as allegedly occupied. Has there been any departure from the standard U.S. position that these territories are occupied?

MS NAUERT: Our position on that hasn’t changed. The comment does not represent a shift in U.S. policy.

QUESTION: Okay. But he is the ambassador of the United States of America.

MS NAUERT: His comment does not represent a shift in U.S. policy. Okay?

 

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New Ambassador David Friedman Arrives in Israel, in Time For POTUS Visit and For a Diplomatic Spat

Posted: 3:50 am ET
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Senate Confirms David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel in 52-46 Vote

Posted: 3:11 am ET
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On March 23, the U.S. Senate confirmed David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel in a narrow 52-46 vote with two Democrats (Manchin (D-WV), and Menendez (D-NJ), joining the Republicans to approved the nomination (2 GOP listed as not voting – Isakson (R-GA) and Paul (R-KY)). The highly controversial pick will succeed Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro who was appointed to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv by President Obama, and served as chief of mission in Israel from 2011 to 2017.

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Five Ex-U.S. Ambassadors to Israel Tell Senate Trump Pick David Friedman “Unqualified” For Post

Posted: 1:31 am  ET
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On December 15,  Trump named David Friedman, a two-state solution critic as the next Ambassador to Israel. On Thursday, February 16, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will hold his confirmation hearing (see SFRC Hearing 2/16/17: David Friedman to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel).

We understand that a letter signed by five former U.S. Ambassadors to Israel during Republican and Democratic administrations (Thomas Pickering, William Harrop, Edward Walker, Daniel Kurtzer and James Cunningham) was delivered on February 15 to the senior staffers of all members of the SFRC to be passed to their principals. The letter quickly leaked to the press.

“We believe him to be unqualified for the position,” the former ambassadors wrote.

The letter also urged the Senators to examine whether Friedman “has the balance and the temperament required to represent the United States as ambassador to Israel.”

“The American ambassador must be dedicated to advancing our country’s longstanding bipartisan goals in the region: strengthening the security of the United States and our ally Israel, and advancing the prospects for peace between Israel and its neighbors, in particular the Palestinians,” the former ambassadors wrote. “If Israel is to carry on as a democratic, Jewish nation, respected internationally, we see no alternative to a two-state solution.”

Read more below:

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Trump Names David Friedman, Two-State Solution Critic as Next Ambassador to Israel

Posted: 12:51 am ET
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On December 15, President-elect Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer and two-state solution critic as his Ambassador to Israel.  Mr. Friendman issued a statement saying, “I intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

 The Trump Transition issued the following statement:

President-elect Donald J. Trump on Thursday announced the nomination of Mr. David Friedman to serve as the United States Ambassador to Israel.

Mr. Friedman, a renowned attorney who has been counselor to some of the world’s top businessmen and companies, was one of the President-elect’s principal advisors on the US-Israel relationship during the campaign.

When Israel proclaimed itself an independent republic in 1948, the United States was the first country to extend formal recognition of the new government. From that moment forward, the two nations have enjoyed a special relationship based on mutual respect and a dedication to freedom and democracy.

With Mr. Friedman’s nomination, President-elect Trump expressed his commitment to further enhancing the US-Israel relationship and ensuring there will be extraordinary strategic, technological, military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries.

“The bond between Israel and the United States runs deep, and I will ensure there is no daylight between us when I’m President,” said President-elect Trump. “As the United States’ Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman will maintain the special relationship between our two countries. He has been a long-time friend and trusted advisor to me. His strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission and be a tremendous asset to our country as we strengthen the ties with our allies and strive for peace in the Middle East. Nothing is more critical than protecting the security of our citizens at home and abroad.”

Mr. Friedman, whose bar mitzvah was held at the Western Wall in Jerusalem 45 years ago, is a fluent speaker of Hebrew and a lifelong student of Israel’s history. On Thursday, he expressed his resolve to be a rock-solid partner with the Israeli leadership as our two countries seek to advance our mutual interests and keep our people safe.

“I am deeply honored and humbled by the confidence placed in me by President-elect Trump to represent the United States as its Ambassador to Israel,” said Mr. Friedman. “I intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

Mr. Friedman is a founding partner of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP, a national law firm with approximately 350 attorneys. For the past 35 years, he has specialized in litigation and bankruptcy law, playing a leading role in restructuring many of the nation’s most complex financial and business operations. Mr. Friedman has been widely recognized for his outstanding contributions to the legal profession, and has been named one of the 500 leading lawyers in the United States.

Mr. Friedman has been a generous philanthropist to Jewish causes, including United Hatzalah of Israel, a nationwide volunteer service of first responders providing aid to all injured Israelis, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity, and Aleh Negev, one of the world’s most advanced facilities for the care of severely disabled children.

Under his leadership and at the President-elect’s direction, the US-Israel relationship will be a model of cooperation and respect.

About that U.S. Embassy:

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