Obama Ambassador Intrigue Deepens in Hollywood

Obama Ambassador Intrigue - H 2013
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Obama Ambassador Intrigue - H 2013

Sources say HBO's James Costos and TV producer Colleen Bell are up for plum diplomatic posts (with Tennis Channel's Ken Solomon in the wings).

This story first appeared in the May 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Nearly $20 million was raised for President Obama's re-election in the Los Angeles area, where Hollywood fundraisers played a significant role. So it's no shock that an unprecedented number of showbiz insiders are finalists for diplomatic appointments during Obama's second term.

Among posts still in play, sources tell THR, is the coveted ambassadorship to France, previously thought to belong to hedge fund chief Marc Lasry, a major contributor to Obama and to Bill Clinton's Clinton Global Initiative. However, sources say Lasry withdrew his name after it became clear that untangling his business deals to meet conflict-of-interest guidelines would be difficult. News reports also have tied Lasry to a high-stakes poker game recently busted by the FBI for alleged Russian mob associations.

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Whomever Obama decides on for the coveted Paris post, he or she will join a surprising number of nominees with Hollywood ties. Among them: Emmy-nominated television producer Colleen Bell, said to be in line for Belgium or Hungary; longtime Democratic activist and executive John Emerson, whose name has come up as a possible ambassador to Germany; HBO executive James Costos, who according to sources is under consideration for Spain; media executive-turned-political activist Rufus Gifford, who is being eyed for Denmark; and political consultant Noah Mamet, who is in the running for Argentina. Tennis Channel chief Ken Solomon is in the mix as an appointee for later in Obama's term; the president is expected to make some appointments for two-year terms rather than four to allow for more picks. (All candidates declined comment.)

The choice of Costos for an ambassadorship would put a high-profile gay couple in a key post. His partner, White House decorator Michael Smith, previously was said to be interested in a diplomatic post. Smith's spokesman adamantly denied that chatter. The couple co-hosted key Obama fundraisers in L.A. and New York.

Political consultant Mamet's possible appointment as the U.S. representative to Argentina has taken some Hollywood insiders by surprise because his fundraising activity didn't quite match some of the others named. Nevertheless, Mamet -- whose candidacy was reportedly championed by White House insider Jim Messina - had raised a considerable sum (more that $1.74 million) as of last May for the president, according to a New York Times analysis published in September.  The NYT study found that Solomon had brought in an estimated $2.76 million through May of 2012; Emerson has raised $2.96 million; Bell brought in $2.2 million; Costos had raised $1.24 million while partner Smith had  brought in $2.38 million. 

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The vetting process, which takes several months, involves deep background checks and assessments of all business dealings. A White House announcement on the ambassadorships is expected in June.