U.S. Ambassador cautioned over comments in Samoa

26 October 2017, 12:00AM

The United States Ambassador to Samoa and New Zealand, Scott Brown, was investigated for comments he made to women when he was in Apia earlier this year.

As a result of the investigation, he was cautioned by the State Department, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Mr. Brown, the former Republican senator from Massachusetts, told Fairfax Media that he had been instructed to be more culturally aware after the July trip in which he called guests at a Peace Corps event in Samoa in July “beautiful,” and told a woman serving food and drink at the function that she could “make hundreds of dollars” as a waitress in the United States.

But he suggested his comments had been misinterpreted and that complaints about them had been politically motivated.

Mr. Brown’s revelations come amid increased scrutiny of the behavior of men in high-ranking positions toward women after allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against the movie executive Harvey Weinstein.

Mr. Brown, who was among the first leading politicians to endorse Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, has been in his New Zealand posting since June. The United States ambassador to New Zealand is also the envoy to Samoa, an independent state in the Polynesian islands.

In a short video statement released Wednesday, Mr. Brown, sitting next to his wife, said he had become aware through “rumor and innuendo” of media reports that there was an “administrative investigation” into his comments underway. Fairfax reported that the State Department sent investigators to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, to interview people who were at the dinner, including the ambassador.

Suggesting his remarks at the event in Samoa had been addressed not only to women, Mr. Brown said he had commented on attendees’ appearances because he saw the people before the event “and they were all dirty and grungy, and when we walked in, they were all dressed to the nines; they looked great.”

Mr. Brown said he and his wife, Gail Huff, had both commented that attendees looked “beautiful” and “handsome.”

 “Apparently someone took offense to that,” he said. “Fine. I did say that; Gail and I both said that,” he added.

Mr. Brown said his comment to a female server that she could make a lot money in the service industry in the United States was intended as a compliment because she was doing “a great job,” and was made in front of Samoan dignitaries in a room crowded with 250 guests.

 “Somebody took offense to that as well,” he said.

Mr. Brown’s characterization of his remarks could not be independently confirmed. The American Embassy in Wellington said it had “nothing to add” to Mr. Brown’s comments to Fairfax, nor would it give details about the State Department inquiry.

Mr. Brown said that after the investigation, he was told he needed to be more culturally sensitive and aware, and that he “welcomed” the advice.

 “I was told by my people, ‘Look, you’re not Scott Brown from Rye, New Hampshire, anymore; you’re an ambassador,’” he said.

 “We are in a different culture, even though we all speak English,” Mr. Brown said. “Sometimes when we say one thing, it means the complete different — whether it’s here in New Zealand or in Samoa.”

 “So noted, and that’s it,” he added.

He also suggested the accusations were politically motivated, saying that politics was “a blood sport back home,” and that the event in Samoa had been attended by “plenty of people who didn’t like” President Trump.

The New Zealand television channel 1 News said Mr. Brown’s Wednesday disclosure to Fairfax had been prompted by a three-week investigation into his behavior by one of its reporters, during which he had declined to answer questions.

The television station reported that witnesses said Mr. Brown had behaved “obnoxiously” at the Samoa event.  

“Would I say it again? Probably not,” Mr. Brown said Wednesday.

Mr. Brown was a little-known state senator in 2010 when he won the Massachusetts Senate seat long held by Edward M. Kennedy — pulling off a surprising upset in the traditionally Democratic state. He lost the seat to Elizabeth Warren in 2012, and made an unsuccessful attempt in 2014 to get elected senator from New Hampshire.

In a Radio New Zealand interview soon after taking up the ambassadorial post, he defended Mr. Trump’s record with women.

Mr. Trump “addresses women on merit all the time,” he said. “He’s been very, very supportive of a lot of women’s initiatives.”

26 October 2017, 12:00AM

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