WASHINGTON (Good Politic) – When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in the UAE on Friday, no US ambassador was there to greet him.
The position has been vacant for nine months. The president of Republican donor Donald Trump, John Rakolta Jr., has not been approved by the Senate.
Trump has often accused Democratic senators of using the complex network of rules of the chamber to sabotage his candidates. But Rakolta's selection illustrates the challenges of creating a high-level position in the public service with a business candidate who has no prior diplomatic experience.
Rakolta, CEO of a construction company, contributed $ 250,000 to the first Trump committee. His wife and children donated tens of thousands of dollars more to the Trump campaign and other GOP-related causes. Rakolta is married to Ronna Romney McDaniel, president of the Republican National Committee. Rakolta's wife is McDaniel's aunt.
Her appointment was so slow in the Senate that she was sent back to the White House earlier this month – one of the 270 choices chosen by the President was fired because they had not been elected until end of the Congress session. It is not unusual for a White House to propose new appointments to the same personalities, but the Trump administration has not yet announced whether it will return the name of Rakolta.
The qualifications and business environment of Rakolta, which includes an inactive partnership with a company based in Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates, were still being examined by the Senate External Relations Committee at the end of the session. .
At that time, nothing was likely to lose the chance of confirmation. One Capitol Hill staff member familiar with the case described this incident as the back-and-forth that accompanies "complex files of candidates," a reference to the careful verification required to ensure that there is no conflict of interest. The aide was not allowed to speak in public and requested anonymity.
The presidential tradition has always been to reward generous political donors and supporters of the campaign by ambassadors. The Political Money Open Secrets website revealed that President Barack Obama had appointed two dozen high-ranking Democratic Party donors to diplomatic posts in his first year in office.
Still, Trump reversed decades of State Department practice by appealing to Rakolta in May. S & # 39; it is proposed again and finally confirmed, Rakolta would become the first political representative to act as ambassador to the Emirates, a small but ambitious country, which intends to expand its regional influence. The position has been filled exclusively by career foreign service officers since 1972, when the United States and the United Arab Emirates established formal diplomatic relations.
The US ambassador's office has been vacant since the end of March, when Barbara Leaf retired from the State Department after a 33-year diplomatic career. In comparison, Leaf was confirmed ambassador in November 2014, about four months after her appointment.
The United Arab Emirates hosts about 5,000 US soldiers. Iran's main listening post in Washington is located in Dubai, the largest city in the UAE. The UAE remains an essential ally of the defense of the United States. US fighter planes are stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base. Dubai's huge port, Jebel Ali, is the busiest port of call for the US Navy because it can accommodate even aircraft carriers.
Rakolta is president and CEO of Walbridge Aldinger, a Detroit-based construction company. He said he would resign from the company if his candidacy was rejected by the Senate. He pledged to recuse himself on matters in which he might have a financial interest although he continues to be a "passive investor" in Walbridge, according to documents filed with the US Government's Office of Ethics.
He initially supported Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio as president, and supported Trump only just before the Republican National Convention in July 2016. Rakolta was one of many Republicans struggling to support a candidate. who seemed to be taking revenge on women and immigrants. But eventually Rakolta came on board, joining the Trump Finance Committee in Michigan to help raise money for the campaign.
In addition to donating $ 250,000 to Trump's inauguration committee, Rakolta also donated $ 150,000 to the Republican National Committee, according to the Federal Election Commission's records. He also donated to Rubio's campaigns, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and Michigan representative Jack Bergman.
His wife, son and daughters have donated more than $ 281,000 since 2016 to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee for the presidential campaign and other Republican organizations. Rakolta's son, John III, who is an executive at Walbridge, also donated $ 15,000 to the Republican National Committee last year. He and his sister Lauren Rakolta each donated $ 5,400 directly to Trump's presidential campaign.
Walbridge formed a joint venture with Amana Investments, based in Abu Dhabi, and "successfully completed some construction work together" between 2003 and 2013, according to Jad Aoun, spokeswoman for Amana. Although the partnership was not dissolved, Aoun said the joint venture had "no job search project".
Terry Merritt, spokesman for Walbridge Aldinger, said last year that the company had no current contracts in the UAE or elsewhere in the Middle East.
Information on Builtforgood.com, a Walbridge Aldinger website, describes the company's involvement in Masdar City, a government-supported clean energy campus near Abu Dhabi, home to the International Agency for Climate Change. renewable energies. Initially estimated at $ 22 billion in 2006, officials then decided to reduce Masdar City due to the drop in crude oil prices and the Dubai financial crisis in 2009.
Masdar is managed by Mubadala, Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund, which is expected to have assets of around $ 250 billion. Merritt said Walbridge Aldinger has been out of the Masdar project since 2011.
All presidential candidates must submit a questionnaire completed by the committee, an FBI background investigation and a financial disclosure report certified by the Office of Ethics.
Accepting a senior government position may require a candidate to sell assets or to agree to recuse himself from matters that directly affect his financial interests. Several former Trump business candidates eventually pulled out after deciding that the transition did not make financial sense for them and their families.
The first choice of the president as army secretary, billionaire businessman Vincent Viola, has withdrawn from the debate because of financial difficulties. The same was true of Philip B. Bilden, venture capitalist, Trump's first choice for the secretary of the Navy. Todd Ricketts, a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, was appointed to the position of Assistant Secretary of Commerce, but retired after being unable to resolve conflict of interest issues.
Jon Gambrell, a writer at the Associated Press in Dubai, contributed to this report.
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