High Drama in Hungary Awaits New American Ambassador

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

This past October, the U.S. Embassy in Hungary released the following statement:

The U.S. Embassy is not aware of any NAV investigations into US businesses or institutions in Hungary and no U.S. actions have been taken as the result of any such investigations.

The U.S. takes corruption seriously.  The U.S. Department of Justice has established an anti-kleptocracy unit to expand capacity to pursue cases in which ill-gotten wealth overseas is found to have a U.S. connection.

Certain Hungarian individuals have been found ineligible to enter the United States as the result of credible information that those individuals are either engaging in or benefiting from corruption.  This was a decision by the Department of State under the authority of Presidential Proclamation Number 7750 and its Anti-Kleptocracy Provision of January 12, 2004.  Criminal proceedings are up to the host nation to pursue.  U.S. privacy laws prohibit us from disclosing the names of the individuals involved.

No one is above the law.  The United States shares Hungary’s view of “zero tolerance” of corruption.  Addressing corruption requires a healthy system of checks, balances and transparency.  The U.S. Government action related to Hungarian individuals is not a Hungary-specific measure, but part of an intensified U.S. focus on combating corruption, a fundamental obstacle to good governance, transparency and democratic values.

The Budapest Beacon reported that ten Hungarian officials and associates have been banned for travel to the United States including individuals close to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Yup, the same one Senator McCain called   a “neo-fascist dictator.  And the reason Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest was summoned to Hungary’s Foreign Ministry.

Last month, Hungary Today citing reports from Portfolio.hu has reported, said that the head of National Tax and Customs Administration of Hungary (NAV), Ildikó Vida had revealed that she and some of her colleagues are among those state officials that were banned by Washington from travelling to the United States.

 

 

Orbán also criticized Goodfriend for accusing a government official of corruption “while hiding behind diplomatic immunity”. Orbán called on Goodfriend to “be a man and take responsibility for his accusations” by agreeing to allow himself to be sued in a Hungarian court for defamation.

“In Hungary, if someone is proven to have been involved in corruption, we don’t replace that person but lock them up,” said the prime minister, neglecting to mention the fact that a similar fate awaits people convicted of defaming public officials.

Later in the day the head of the Fidesz caucus, Antal Rogán, an authority on corruption, told the Hungarian News Service that Goodfriend could prove to a Hungarian court of law if Vida was guilty of corruption, “but that this would first involve the US agreeing to lift his diplomatic immunity”.

Right and she did not want to be fired. As can be expected, the tax office (NAV) chief Ildikó Vida filed a defamation lawsuit against US embassy chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend.  According to Hungary Today, the complaint was filed with the prosecutor’s investigations office on the ground of “public defamation causing serious damage,” a NAV lawyer said.

 

 

The Financial Review notes that growing anti-government protests in the country may become another battleground between Europe and Russia.  Several protests in the last few months over corruption, internet tax plan, private pensions, etcetera.  The Review suggests that these protests against an  increasingly pro-Russian leadership, raised questions about whether the former communist nation could become the next Ukraine.

Amidst this, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Hungary, and The Colbert Report noticed.

 

Mr. Colbert notes that “The Bold And The Beautiful is perfect training to be an ambassador. Hungary is a region rife with drama and constant threat of violence — exactly the situation the Forrester family routinely handles from their palatial estate while simultaneously running their fashion empire.”

As if that’s not enough, there are also some suggestions floating around the net on how Viktor Orbán can best use the Colleen Bell fiasco to screw the US and its liberal allies in Hungary. It includes wining and dining, and those are the nicer parts.

Meanwhile, @GoodfriendMA is going about his business, checking out the Christmas markets in Budapest and awaiting the arrival of his new boss.

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

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

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.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03

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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