President Barack Obama is considering appointing his biggest Wall Street fundraiser to become ambassador to the UK, according to rumours circulating in Washington.
The job, traditionally seen as the most prestigious in American diplomacy, is likely to go to Louis Susman, a former executive at Citigroup, nicknamed “the vacuum cleaner” for his ability to suck up money from donors.
The new President, elected on a wave of popular revulsion against cronyism in Washington, warned earlier this month that at least some ambassadorial positions would be “political” appointments, although he had raised hopes that he would to break with the past and make more senior appointments from the diplomatic service.
Mr Susman would be replacing Robert Tuttle, who was sent to London by George Bush, for whom he raised $200,000 (£140,000). As one of Mr Obama’s most important fundraisers, Mr Susman has amassed more than $800,000. If appointed, the 71-year-old Wall Street veteran, who retired as vice-chairman of Citigroup Capital Markets on 1 February, would be handed the keys to the ambassador’s grace and favour mansion on 12 acres of Regent’s Park in London. The Washington Post first reported Mr Susman’s name, citing a source with knowledge of the negotiations. The appointment is “likely to happen” but is “not final”, the source said. Officials at the British Foreign Office and at Buckingham Palace will be consulted on the nomination, but it is understood that they have not yet been contacted.
Perhaps more importantly, the appointment must win the approval of the Senate, where several of Mr Obama’s cabinet picks have already been torpedoed. Mr Susman’s long career at Citigroup is likely to attract considerable controversy, since the bank has become a focus for popular outrage during the financial crisis. The bank is being kept alive thanks only to $45bn in US government aid, after having been brought to the brink of collapse by disastrous bets on risky mortgages.
Mr Obama’s pick for ambassador to the UK will face hearings before the Senate committee on foreign relations.
Louis Susman: Fundraising wizard
*If Louis Susman is handed the keys to Winfield House, the US ambassador’s luxurious London residence, it will be a reward that has been a long time coming. From Edward Kennedy’s bid to topple Jimmy Carter in 1980, to John Kerry’s 2004 campaign, which he joked sent his blood pressure soaring, Mr Susman has been the go-to guy for any Democratic candidate who wants a shot at the White House. But he hitched himself to the Obama bandwagon long before the rookie Chicago politician was seen as a serious contender for the highest office, and on Wall Street became the most powerful of the candidate’s “bundlers” – who gather individual donations by hosting fundraisers, pressing flesh and twisting arms. Smooth and charming, Mr Susman tapped into a vast network of contacts thanks to his background as Chicago lawyer, Wall Street banker and Democratic party grandee.