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White House Nominee For Ambassador To Russia: 'No Question' Moscow Meddled In Election

Jon Huntsman departs following a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination to be ambassador to Russia on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on September 19.

WASHINGTON -- The man nominated by the White House to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia has said there is "no question" that Moscow interfered in last year's presidential election.

Jon Huntsman made the comment on September 19 during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Huntsman, a former governor of Utah and former ambassador to China and to Singapore, is widely expected to be confirmed as Washington's envoy to Moscow.

Experts were watching his testimony closely for clues on how he will handle U.S.-Russian relations, which are now at their worst level since Cold War.

The question of Russia's alleged meddling in last year's election has shadowed President Donald Trump's administration since before he took office. Trump himself has cast doubts on U.S. intelligence conclusions about Russian interference

"There is no question, underline no question, that the Russian government interfered in the U.S. election last year," Huntsman told the panel. "And Moscow continues to meddle in the democratic processes of our friends and allies."

U.S. relations with Russia have been spiraling downward since well before Trump took office in January. The Kremlin was angered by a 2012 U.S. law that sanctions Russians accused of human rights abuses. The Russian annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and subsequent conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed at least 10,000 people were met with economic sanctions by the United States and its allies.

In December 2016, Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, accused two leading Russian security agencies of involvement in cyberespionage and ordered the seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats. That was followed in January by a U.S. intelligence community report saying Moscow had actively meddled in the presidential election.

Since then, Russia has ordered a drastic cut in U.S. diplomatic personnel, an order that was met by Washington ordering the closure of Russia's consulate in San Francisco.

Congress, meanwhile, has passed new measures cementing in place existing sanctions against Russia and toughening other ones, something the Kremlin objected strenuously to.

At least three congressional committees are investigating Russian actions during the election, and a Justice Department special counsel has been using a grand jury in a criminal inquiry into suspicious interactions between Russian officials and Trump associates.

"Right now we're at a low point. It reminds me of 1986," Huntsman told senators, saying he would tell Russian officials that they were accountable for their actions.

He said Russia and the United States had some potential areas for cooperation, including fighting Islamic State radicals, joint space missions and resolving the tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.