Tennessee businessman Hagerty breezes through hearing for ambassador to Japan

5/22/2017

Nashville businessman Bill Hagerty diplomatically deflected a few potentially dangerous questions as he breezed through his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, bringing him one step closer to becoming the U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Most of the questions Hagerty, 57, faced were about how to open up Japan for more U.S. exports and how to deal with a nuclear North Korea and a China looking to expand its influence.

For Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo., it was how to get more Wyoming beef into Japan while Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., asked about removing barriers to the sale of the state’s chicken in Japan and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, lamented that few American cars are sold in Japan.

“It’s a very complicated issue,” Hagerty told Portman in what was a typical response during the hearing.

The hearing lasted only about an hour but the hearing room was packed, mostly with Japanese media and members of the diplomatic corps, including Kenichiro Sasae, Japanese ambassador to the U.S.

One slightly uncomfortable moment came when Sen. Robert Menendez, DN. J., read back comments that President Donald Trump made while campaigning, including that “Japan has not taken care of us properly” and the suggestion that Japan may want to acquire a nuclear weapon.

Hagerty pointed out that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Trump within days of his taking office and that Vice President Mike Pence and several Cabinet members have already visited the country.

He said he had no intention of urging Japan to pursue a nuclear weapon.

Hagerty was introduced to the committee, headed by Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, by the state’s senior senator, Lamar Alexander.

He mentioned several times the three years he spent working in Japan early in his business career and his recent success encouraging Japanese investment in Tennessee as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

Hagerty served as director of presidential appointments for the Trump’s transition team. In March, the president nominated him to be Japanese ambassador.

Hagerty, a private equity investor, is the president, a director or holds some other leadership or advisory role in 14 businesses or investment firms, according to a financial disclosure form he was required to file as part of his nomination.

Among those, he serves on the board of three public companies. RennissanceRe, Pinnacle Bank, and Ryman Hospitality Properties.

In a letter to a State Department ethics official, he states he will resign from those three boards if he is confirmed. He will also resign from positions in many of the other firms or no longer do any work for them. He included a list of 46 companies, including Apple, Wal-Mart and Ford Motor Co., that he promises to divest from within 90 days of his confirmation.

On a separate financial disclosure form that the president’s nominees are required to file, Hagerty lists assets with a total value ranging from $17.5 million to $43.7 million. The disclosure form allows nominees to list the value of assets within large monetary ranges. In addition, some assets, such as the value of a personal residence, do not have to be listed.

Hagerty lists liabilities totaling between $1.05 million to $2.2 million, the largest one being a loan of between $500,001 and $1 million on his home.

The Foreign Relations Committee is expected to recommend his confirmation, which then will go before the entire Senate.

If confirmed by the Senate, Hagerty would become the third Tennessean to serve in the post. Former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., who died in 2014, was ambassador to Japan under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. Luke Edward White, who was born in Giles County, served in the post from 1906 to 1907 under President Teddy Roosevelt.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by BILL THEOBALD

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org

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