Craft’s GOP rivals have little to say about her absenteeism as U.S. ambassador to Canada

By: - April 3, 2023 5:30 am

In December 2019, then-President Donald Trump and then-Ambassador Kelly Craft spoke to the media during a luncheon with representatives of the United Nations Security Council in the Cabinet Room at the White House. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Kelly Craft’s four major rivals for governor in the May 16 Republican primary were mostly mum when asked about reports that she had a high absenteeism rate as U.S. ambassador to Canada.

In 2019, the Democratic staff of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a critical minority report on Craft’s nomination by then-President Donald Trump to be ambassador to the United Nations.

Among its criticisms, the report said she spent the equivalent of seven months of her 20-month tenure as U.S. ambassador to Canada back in the United States where she had homes in Kentucky and Oklahoma.  The coal company of her husband, Joe Craft, has its headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The eight-page minority report said Craft was not qualified to be U.N. ambassador, citing “dereliction of duties” during her tenure as ambassador to Canada, including high absenteeism.

Several Republicans took issue with the Democrats’ tally of Craft’s absences, saying some of the days were for annual and sick leave. She eventually was confirmed to the U.N. post on a 56-34 Senate vote on July 31, 2019 and served until 2021.

The report said Craft made more than 43 trips to Kentucky or Oklahoma while ambassador, spending 210 days (34.5 percent of her time) in states where she and her spouse have homes.

Her absences prevented her from meeting with senior Canadian officials or lead the efforts of the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, the minority report claimed, adding that this alone should disqualify her from serving as U.S. representative to the United Nations.

The report also said Craft said at her nomination hearing that she always requested and received approval for her travel.

But records showed that she spent at least 11 days out of Canada without State Department approval, including one three-day trip to Kentucky and repeated unapproved extensions of existing trips to Kentucky or Oklahoma. 

Politico was the first media outlet to report Craft’s on-the-job absences. They took on more national than state attention at the time because Craft, a political appointee with close ties to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Louisville, did not have widespread diplomatic or political experience typical of a U.N. nominee.

Kelly Craft

During her confirmation hearing, Craft attributed much of her travel back to the United States to the demands of negotiating and promoting a revamped North American free trade pact. But Democrats found that only about 40 days of the 356 total days she spent partially or wholly outside of Canada were for trade negotiations. Moreover, the minority staff found that she had claimed 60 personal days away from the job.

In total, Craft spent part or all of 356 days outside of Canada during her time as ambassador there, which amounts to more than 56 percent of her time on the job, Democrats say. (Republicans say their count was 323 days.)

Under the headline, “Trump’s U.N. nominee was ‘absent’ ambassador,” Politico reported in June 2019 that Federal Aviation  Administration records “show that a private jet registered to Craft’s husband and used by the ambassador made 128 flights between the United States and Canada during a 15-month span of her tenure in Ottawa, the equivalent of a round trip once a week.

“Some of the trips correspond with dates of events Craft attended in her home state of Kentucky — such as the Kentucky Derby and a media interview at a University of Kentucky basketball facility named for her husband, Joe Craft, a coal billionaire — but neither of the Crafts, through their spokespeople, would confirm how many of the flights involved her travel,” Politico said.

The Democrats on the Senate committee also found that Joe Craft attended meetings with U.S. and Canadian government officials, along with Kelly Craft in her official capacity as ambassador.

Daniel Cameron

Committee Republicans said Joe Craft’s appearances at the events were in his role as her spouse.

Kelly Craft and her husband have donated millions of dollars to Republican political candidates across the country.

Only major contender not to have held elective office

Of the major Republican candidates who want to unseat Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear in the November general election, only Craft has not held elective office.

Craft was the first woman to hold the post as U.S. ambassador to Canada. Before that, she was appointed by President George W. Bush as a U.S. alternate delegate to the United Nations in 2007, where she focused on America’s engagement in Africa.

She heads a business advisory firm in Lexington. Born in Lexington, she grew up just outside Glasgow. Her late father, Dr. Bobby Guilfoil, a veterinarian, was active in the Democratic Party.

Ryan Quarles

The Kentucky Lantern asked Craft’s rivals in this spring’s GOP primary election if the 2019 Senate Democratic report about Craft should be an issue in this year’s race for governor.

Their response was limited, if any.

The campaign of Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whom Craft has accused of not being a conservative in some tough ads, did not respond. Cameron, so far, has said little about Craft.

The campaign of Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles also did not respond.  Quarles is a former state legislator who is in his second term as state farm chief.

Alan Keck

Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, who was first elected to his current post in 2018 and recently won a second term, said, “Track records are important indicators of the future. I don’t know why then-Ambassador Craft was away from her post so often. 

“During her tenure in Canada, I was busy leading our family business, creating jobs and campaigning to help transform my hometown of Somerset.

“As a CEO, mayor and governor, it’s critical that you not only lead by example but do so with transparency. Kentucky voters will never have to question my presence or my commitment.” 

Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon
Mike Harmon

Mike Harmon, who is finishing his second term as state auditor and is a former state legislator, said, “My only comment would be that my campaign ‘Mike Harmon for Governor,’ will continue to focus on our main objective which is to make Andy Beshear a one-term governor.  

“I will continue to travel the state and promote our message of ‘Freedom Over Fear!’” 

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Jack Brammer
Jack Brammer

Jack Brammer, a native of Maysville, has been a news reporter in Kentucky since 1976. He worked two years for The Sentinel-News in Shelbyville and then from 1978 to 2021 in the Lexington Herald-Leader's Frankfort bureau. After retiring in December 2021 from the Herald-Leader, he became a freelance writer for various publications. Brammer has a Master's degree in communications from the University of Kentucky and is a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.