A seasoned Washington lawyer who vetted Sarah Palin's vice presidential nomination was nominated Monday to be the US ambassador to Australia by Donald Trump, who is still filling key positions two years into his presidency.
A.B. Culvahouse, 70, who served as White House counsel to Ronald Reagan and led the prominent international law firm O'Melveny & Myers, will be the first US ambassador to the close US ally in more than two years if approved by the Senate.
The timing of the announcement was peculiar, coming late at night on the eve of congressional elections. Trump, who was elected two years ago with vows to shake up how Washington does business, has left vacant the ambassador spots to much-in-the-news countries including Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Trump previously picked Harry Harris, a retired admiral who headed the US Pacific Command, as ambassador to Australia but, on the urging of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after he took office in May, Harris was switched to South Korea, seen as much more pressing.
Culvahouse, a Tennessee native, came to Washington to work for his state's senator Howard Baker, a legendary deal-maker and moderate Republican. He took charge of legal advice to Reagan as the president became embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandal over secret arms sales with Tehran.
Culvahouse accurately predicted that Palin would energize the Republican base, but Palin faced accusations that she was ill-prepared to potentially assume the presidency.
The lawyer again led the running mate search for Trump. In a 2011 profile in Washingtonian magazine, Culvahouse described himself as a lifelong Republican who was not drawn to seeking office himself and who enjoys spending weekends hunting and fishing.
Australia is one of the most stalwart US allies, although Trump's relationship with Canberra started off shakily. His introductory phone call to then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull reportedly ended abruptly as Trump criticized him over a refugee resettlement deal.
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