Jon Huntsman Jr. has often been called one of the last “sane” Republicans. So he had to know that taking a job as Donald Trump’s ambassador to Russia would be just the opposite.
Throughout his yearlong tenure, the former presidential candidate and Utah governor has managed to weather the rapidly souring relationship between Moscow and Washington—the election meddling scandal, the expulsion of Russian and American diplomats, a steady barrage of sanctions and indictments from Washington, the Helsinki summit disaster—all while maintaining a relatively low profile in U.S. media.
But in a surprisingly revealing article in Utah’s Deseret News, Huntsman opens up about the aftermath of the tumultuous summit, the day-to-day ordeal of living just a mile from the Kremlin, and the cancer diagnosis that won’t stop him from fighting for sanity in a conflict that is likely to only get crazier.
Here are six of its most revealing moments:
After the Chaotic Helsinki Summit, Pence and Bolton Called Huntsman to Ask if He Planned to Resign
During the joint press conference at their summit in Helsinki this summer, Donald Trump shocked the world when he refused to condemn Vladimir Putin for Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and instead cast doubt on the FBI and railed against Hillary Clinton and her emails.
A New York Times photographer captured the reactions of Huntsman and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both of whom looked down with their eyes closed. Huntsman’s shoulders were slumped and his chin was drawn in, reporter Jesse Hyde notes. His daughter would later tweet that she had only seen her father look that way once before: when she returned home after briefly running away as a teenager.
Many called for Huntsman to resign in protest—even his own ex-campaign manager John Weaver tweeted “Resign, if you have any honor.” Huntsman, stuck in a secure location while briefing other NATO ambassadors, was oblivious to the uproar—until he received calls from Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser John Bolton.
Each had the exact same question: Was he going to resign?
He’s Not Sure if Trump Talked to Putin About Election Meddling in Their Famous One-on-One Meeting
When asked about the details of the two-hour meeting between Putin and Trump that occured before the press conference, Huntsman admitted that he wasn’t sure if Trump and Putin had discussed election meddling.
“Yeah, the president talked about all these issues in the private meeting with President Putin where they were together,” Huntsman said. But he then clarified that “I’d guess it was brought up because they’re pretty consistent in terms of talking about it and certainly over lunch these issues were talked about.”
“...A lot of diplomacy is conducted behind closed doors,” he added. “Emphatic statements have been made. There is no lingering doubt about the importance of this issue. I can’t imagine anyone in the high commands of the Russian government would be thinking, gee, maybe we can do this.”
He Believes Russia Is Spying and Psychologically Manipulating Americans
Huntsman said he knows that in his Moscow residence, Spaso House, there’s no such thing as privacy.
The former U.S. ambassador to China has good reason to feel that way. In the family room of the upstairs private residence, there once was a U.S. seal on the wall that was handcrafted by Russian schoolchildren and gifted as a sign of goodwill, Huntsman said. That seal hung in ambassadors’ personal quarters for over a decade, he added—until investigators found that Russian agents had implemented a listening device in the eye of the eagle.
When he needs to have private conversations with his wife, he said, the pair won’t speak at home. Instead, they’ll walk 10 minutes to the American embassy, where there’s an area that’s impenetrable to listening devices.
The constant surveillance is an “omnipresent sort of jacket,” he told Hyde. “You’re followed, you’re watched, you’re listened to as aggressively as any country in the world and for some people that means very aggressively.”
“There are a lot of different ways they can make life quite difficult and it’s happened and it continues to happen,” he added. “Family pets killed, tires slashed, things left behind in your home, just as a reminder that we were here. It can add up psychologically where you begin to feel a little vulnerable.”
And Huntsman Just Found Out He Has Cancer, Too
Near the end of his time with Hyde, Huntsman revealed that he had been diagnosed this summer with a stage 1 melanoma. His political idol, John McCain, also had melanoma—although it’s unclear if that melanoma is linked to the brain cancer that eventually killed him.
Huntsman said that he had found small black spots behind his ear and on his thigh. When he returned to Utah for a vacation this summer, he had a doctor at the Huntsman Cancer Institute take a look—but he didn’t get the results until he was back in Moscow, where he worked to keep his diagnosis a secret to avoid further targeting.
He has since had the moles surgically removed—leaving a six-inch scar behind his ear—which likely means the cancer won’t return. But he’ll need checkups every month for the next year.
“It kind of puts things in perspective,” he said, noting that he lost his father to cancer this February.
Despite Everything, He Has No Plans to Resign
When asked about the possibility of his resignation, Hyde notes, Huntsman appeared “troubled” by what the question said about the current political climate.
“Sometimes you’re going to win, sometimes you’re going to lose, but let’s try to work with the people who win and make it the very best you can,” he said, referencing the 2016 election. “We’ve entered the worst phase right now, which is we’re now going to try to spend four years ripping down the person who has won, as opposed to saying, ‘What can we do to contribute to their success in areas that will make the country better and stronger?’”
He also claims his relationship with President Trump—often portrayed as adversarial—has been mischaracterized. He defended Trump’s comments on election meddling, claiming that he said “the right things” when it counted—and that “It seems that when he does say it nobody pays any attention to it.”
When asked if he served Trump or America, Huntsman said that in his mind they were one and the same. “The president is an extension of the country,” he told Hyde, “and represents the will of the people.”
His Wife Says He Isn’t ‘Crazy Enough’ to Be President Himself
Throughout the profile, Hyde notes that Huntsman has many presidential qualities, writing that Huntsman is “measured, classy, kind, decent.”
This led him to ask Huntsman’s wife, Mary Kaye, if it ever frustrated her that a man like her husband wasn’t president.
“He’d never get elected these days,” she replied with a sly grin.
“Why not?” Hyde asked.
“He’s not crazy enough.”