Skip to content

Risch on SFRC Passage of Unqualified State Department Nominees

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today released the following statements following the committee’s passage of four unqualified State Department nominees:

“I am disappointed the chairman decided to move four nominees today that have significant vetting concerns. For months I have made my objections to these nominees known, as well as my desire for the president to nominate other, well-vetted nominees. That did not happen, so I will continue to object to these nominees moving forward.”

On the nomination of Robert Forden to be ambassador to Cambodia:

“On Mr. Forden, this is a clear case of negligence – he did not uphold the most basic and important responsibilities of a senior leader in the Department. He was entrusted with defending the rights of U.S. diplomats in China, but he failed.

“The initial waiver of inviolability the Department agreed to in September 2020 was extremely limited, allowing only: 1) testing before arrival in China; 2) testing upon arrival and at day 13 in China; and 3) quarantine for up to 14 days. Mr. Forden says Washington made all the decisions, yet was the one who asked State to sign off on this waiver.   

“China started to violate this waiver immediately, and Mr. Forden did not stop it. China subjected our diplomats to fever hospitals and hotel quarantines with abhorrent conditions, separated children from their families, performed blood tests and other invasive medical testing on U.S. diplomats, denied non-COVID medical care, and conducted round-the-clock surveillance. We know this because multiple whistleblowers provided evidence that directly refutes key parts of Mr. Forden’s testimony. Whistleblowers attended our hearing and we could have heard from them, but the chairman denied the committee this opportunity.   

“Instead of drawing lines to stop Chinese overreach, Mr. Forden fostered a culture of compliance with China’s violations. U.S. diplomats did not know their privileges and immunities had been waived or violated. Embassy guidance was to comply and they felt they had no choice.

“This is part of a broader pattern: the U.S. government is tolerating increased mistreatment and harassment of U.S. diplomats by the Chinese government and security apparatus. That is unacceptable.

“The majority said it was unaware of these allegations until the hearing. However, whistleblowers approached both sides of the committee in January 2022. The majority has had this information for years – they chose not to investigate it.”

On the nomination of Margaret Taylor to be legal advisor at the State Department:

“While I have concerns about Ms. Taylor’s performance as general counsel at USAID, including how on her watch, some USAID contractors and partners repeatedly promoted abortion overseas in violation of U.S. law, my objection to her nomination is simple – this is about State’s refusal to share information about Mr. Malley’s suspended security clearance.

“For eight months, I asked for information on the suspension. What are the underlying allegations? Are the allegations related to his work on Iran? Was any information he provided to this committee compromised? During the hearing, we were told State doesn’t have this information. However, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Mr. Smith briefed me and the chairman that he indeed does have it, he is just not allowed to share it. 

“Instead, State has failed to provide any legal basis for withholding this information. It hides behind the Privacy Act, despite a clear exception for requests from congressional committees – an exception the nominee herself has acknowledged.”

On the nomination of Dr. Michael Sfraga to be ambassador at large for Arctic affairs:

“The position of ambassador at large for Arctic affairs must be focused on national security challenges, economic opportunities, and the implications of U.S. foreign policy in the Arctic. Due to its importance, this position is a target for malign influence, especially from Russia and China. Our Arctic Ambassador must be able to counter foreign malign influence – not facilitate it. 

“Dr. Sfraga has traveled extensively to Russia and China, negotiated agreements with Chinese institutions tied to the Chinese defense and intelligence services, spoke at a Russian government-sponsored conference headlined by Vladimir Putin, and, just a couple months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, spoke on a panel sponsored by a sanctioned state-owned Russian energy company. He failed to disclose any of this, and had to update his file three times after being confronted with this information.

“He has consistently advocated for a ‘competition-free’ Arctic despite Russia and China’s ongoing efforts to undermine U.S. and allied interests in the region. All of this shows a concerning lack of judgment, which could make Dr. Sfraga a liability our adversaries could exploit if confirmed. The Senate should not confirm – and the administration never should have nominated – such a poorly vetted candidate for such an important role.”

On the nomination of Erik Woodhouse to be head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination at the State Department:

“The head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination is a role I care deeply about. I wrote the legislation to create it, and I want it to succeed. This job requires someone who will voice opposition when the law and the political will of an administration don’t align.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Woodhouse has not robustly defended the law in key sanctions issues. He played a pivotal role in the administration’s protection of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from mandatory, bipartisan sanctions before Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. While he was not the only administration official responsible for this blatant violation of the law, in conversations he has had with my team, it is clear he intentionally misled the committee and ignored facts that contradicted Biden policy. Based on my experience with him, I lack confidence in Mr. Woodhouse.”