Trump touted conspiratorial ambassador nominee's 'marketing' skills

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration says that an ambassadorial nominee under scrutiny for sharing “cuckoo” conspiracy theories about the future president’s rivals in 2016 is qualified for the post in part because of his “considerable” marketing skills.

Leandro Rizzuto Jr. got the nod to be ambassador to Barbados and other Caribbean nations in January, but his confirmation has hit a snag after CNN unearthed evidence that the businessman promoted smears about other GOP contenders and even Sen. Ted Cruz’s wife. On Tuesday, the office of Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., mocked Rizzuto as having a “tinfoil hat” and accused him of spreading “salacious conspiracy theories and cuckoo allegations.”

“Cynics and nuts are probably going to have a hard time securing Senate confirmation,” said Sasse spokesman James Wegmann.

Rizzuto’s apparent fondness for advancing fringe stories was understandably absent from the administration’s formal description of why he is qualified for the job.

In a “certificate of demonstrated competence” — a document the State Department is required to share with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for each nominee — the administration lavishly praised Rizzuto’s business skills. The document highlights sales growth and patent development at corporations he has led, like Conair.

“With Conair offices in Asia, Europe, Australia, and Latin America he had extensive international business experience, evaluating and analyzing markets and expanding global operations,” the document says.

“His demonstrated leadership in business and management and his considerable success in international marketing make him well-qualified to serve as U.S. Ambassador.”

Trump and Leandro Rizzuto Jr. (Photos: Getty Images/YouTube – Salon.com)

Certificates of competency for political appointees tend to go a bit overboard in highlighting both business savvy and largely irrelevant biographical tidbits. President Barack Obama’s choice to be ambassador to Norway was promoted as speaking conversational Greek. His pick to be ambassador to Hungary “speaks conversational Spanish.” Another Trump nominee was described in her certificate of competence as having written a cookbook. The Senate confirmed her as ambassador to France.

So it’s not a major surprise to discover that one of Rizzuto’s qualifications to be the top U.S. diplomat in Barbados is that he “created and published Style Source Magazine, the leader in beauty industry publications and distributed in six languages internationally.”

Big donors and political figures can make fine American diplomats. A top Obama donor, former “Yo Gabba Gabba!” producer Charles Rivkin, served first as ambassador to France and later as assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, a post to which he won Senate confirmation in a 92-6 vote.

It’s too early to judge Terry Branstad’s tenure as Trump’s envoy to China, but no one seriously doubted that he had some relevant skills.

The former Iowa governor made frequent trips there and regularly welcomed officials from Beijing to the Hawkeye State as part of his efforts to boost his state’s exports. He notably hosted Xi Jinping in the 1980s, when the future Chinese president was merely a minor functionary.

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