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George Tsunis under fire in ambassador confirmation hearings

A photo of George Tsunis, of Cold Spring

A photo of George Tsunis, of Cold Spring Harbor, who was named ambassador to Norway. Credit: John H. Cornell, 1993

Long Island businessman George Tsunis, nominated by President Barack Obama as ambassador to Norway, is facing criticism for a lack of knowledge about the country's government.

Tsunis, who switched parties to become a top Democratic fundraiser in the 2012 election, appeared last week before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which is considering his confirmation.

At one point, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked Tsunis to explain the appeal of Norway's Progress Party, which McCain called "anti-immigration," and which last year formed a governing coalition with the Conservative Party.

"One of the byproducts of being such an open society, and placing such a value on free speech is you get some fringe elements that have a microphone, that spew their hatred, although I will tell you Norway has been very quick to denounce them," Tsunis replied.

McCain interrupted, "The government has denounced them? They're part of the coalition."

"I stand corrected," Tsunis replied, adding the "overwhelming amount of people in Parliament don't feel the same way" as Progressive leaders.

Tsunis, 46, of Cold Spring Harbor, managing director of Chartwell Hotels, declined to comment Thursday. But in his testimony, he cited his membership on the Brookings Institution Foreign Policy Leadership Committee and service as trustee with the Business Executives for National Security.

Tsunis said he planned as ambassador to provide "support to public diplomacy efforts to reach out to people throughout Norway and to provide educational exchange opportunities for Norwegians to study in the United States, and expand these opportunities wherever possible."

In 2008, Tsunis gave $50,000 to McCain's presidential campaign but registered as a Democrat in 2009. In the 2012 election cycle, Tsunis raised $988,550 for Obama, said the Center for Responsive Politics.This week, some political blogs in Norway and the U.S. cited Tsunis' testimony in criticizing presidents' practice of rewarding top donors with diplomatic posts. One English-language Norwegian publication, The Leader, said Tsunis showed a "total ignorance" of the country's government.

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