After multiple reports surfaced over the weekend that President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, both Republican and Democratic officials expressed concern and outright opposition to the appointment, citing the oil executive’s self-described close relationship with Vladimir Putin.
According to the company’s website, Exxon has maintained a “continuous business presence” with Russia for over 20 years. The oil and gas company is also this year’s top Washington lobbyist in their sector, spending $8.8 million through September, and campaigned for the State Department to allow the country to enter the World Trade Organization in 2011.
Perhaps more significantly, a $700 million drilling project Exxon was working on with Russian oil company Rosneft in the Kara Sea off the country’s northern coast was halted by sanctions imposed by the U.S. against Moscow in 2014 for the annexation of Crimea and insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
After the agreement was struck between Exxon and the Russian government in 2011, Tillerson received an “Order of Friendship” from Putin the following year, a medal recognizing a foreign individual’s efforts in bettering relations with the Kremlin.
A 2014 Exxon Mobil filing with the SEC showed that the world’s largest publicly traded oil company lost $1 billion due to U.S. sanctions on Russia.
Following news first reported by NBC on Saturday that Tillerson was first in line to be nominated as Trump’s State Department secretary, a number of Senate Foreign Relations committee members signaled opposition to the appointment, including Republicans Marco Rubio (Fla.) and John McCain (Ariz.) and Democrats Ben Cardin (Md.) and Bob Menendez (N.J.)
Being a “friend of Vladimir” is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState – MR
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 11, 2016
Sen. Menendez said Tillerson’s confirmation as secretary of state would ensure “Russia has a willing accomplice in the president’s cabinet guiding our nation’s foreign policy.”
Immediate opposition from prominent and influential senators on both sides of aisle is a bad sign for Tillerson, as the lifelong Exxon employee will likely only be able to tolerate a few Republican dissenters and still garner the necessary 51 votes. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is also expected to oppose the oil executive’s candidacy.
Vehement bipartisan opposition to Trump’s likely state secretary nomination additionally exists outside of Congress. Former McCain chief of staff, Mark Salter, tweeted on Friday: “Tillerson would sell out NATO for [Russian] oil and his pal, Vlad.”
The DNC, undoubtedly frustrated by Friday’s report that the CIA has substantive evidence the Kremlin actively interfered to influence November’s U.S. election, issued a statement Saturday calling Tillerson’s nomination an “outrageous” choice and a “victory for Vladimir Putin, who . . . now has a close ally with no foreign policy experience serving as America’s top diplomat.”
While Tillerson was already scheduled to step down as Exxon’s chief executive in 2017, the 64-year-old Texas native will reportedly hold a significant amount of company stock — currently valued at $151 million — for nearly another 10 years.
[Wall Street Journal] [Politico]