Uncertainty Over UK Ambassador’s Post; Interim Envoy Was Caught Up in Clinton’s Private Email Server Row

By Kevin McCandless | March 6, 2017 | 9:27 PM EST

Lewis Lukens, currently interim chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in London, worked closely with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department from 2008-2011. (Photo: U.S, Embassy London)

London  (CNSNews.com) – With a proposed state visit to the United Kingdom by President Donald Trump reportedly pushed back until the fall, there is also a hint of uncertainty about when Britain will see its next American ambassador.

British press reported last week that a visit by Trump – state visits are formally requested by the Queen and are traditionally pomp-filled affairs – would be delayed until October.

The president had been expected to travel to Britain early in the summer but the plans were met with loud protests and an outcry from some lawmakers on the left.

In response, a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said that there was no possibility of the visit being pushed back since no date for it had ever been announced.

This comes at a time when the U.S. diplomatic mission to the United Kingdom is being temporarily led by a career State Department diplomat, as is customary during periods of transition.

The trend in recent years has been for the post of U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James to be filled only a number of months after a new president’s inauguration.

Louis Susman, the first ambassador appointed by President Obama was not officially presented in the country until October 2009, while William S. Farrish III, the first under President George W. Bush, not until August 2001.

Month-long gaps have also appeared between ambassadorial appointments between presidents’ first and second terms.

This year, politically appointed ambassadors in high prestige postings such as London and Paris were asked to resign by January 20.

The current interim chargé d’affaires – essentially the acting ambassador – is Lewis Lukens, who was previously deputy chief of mission in London.

Educated at Princeton University and himself the son of a career foreign service officer, Lukens has served in posts around the globe.

He was ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau from 2011 to 2014, and in the early 2000s, served as senior director for administration at the National Security Council.

From 2008 to 2011, he was an executive director at the State Department, directing all management support for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

As such, he was drawn into the controversy over her use of a private email server which dominated much of Clinton’s unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign.

In May 2016, along with other Clinton aides and associates, Lukens gave a deposition to Judicial Watch, a public interest group that has been legally pursuing information about her emails.

He testified that he communicated with Clinton aide Cheryl Mills in 2009 about how the secretary could use her email for personal use, for what he thought would be keeping in touch with friends and family.

Lukens said he suggested setting up a stand-alone computer in the secretary’s office but that Mills said that Clinton did not know how to use one for email, relying only on her Blackberry for that purpose.

On January 19, President Trump announced that Woody Johnson, an American businessman and owner of the New York Jets, would be the next ambassador to the U.K.

Early in February, however, Johnson told reporters in New Jersey this was not official and that anything to that effect was speculative.

The U.S. Embassy in London had no comment on Johnson last week, referring questions on any official word on nominees to the White House.

Tim Oliver, an expert on relations between Britain and America at the London School of Economics, said the absence of an American ambassador was par for the course at this time but that it also added to the series of questions and doubts about a Trump-led United States.

He said that what alarms foreign governments is not the absence of ambassadors but the reportedly slow pace at which top positions have been filled at the State Department.

This poses the question about who will be handling top-level issues, as well as the vast majority of more mundane issues that are typically handled at a lower level.

Oliver said that the appointment of an ambassador often gives the country in question a personal link to the president. World leaders want a personal link with Trump which will help them give a sense of him, he said.

Kevin McCandless
Kevin McCandless
CNS London Correspondent

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