By Rachel Oswald and John T. Bennett
CQ Roll Call
President-elect Donald Trump is said to have selected ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of State, The New York Times and NBC News reported Saturday, citing two sources close to the transition.
“In his case, he’s much more than a business executive. I mean, he’s a world-class player,” Trump said of Tillerson on a portion of a taped “Fox News Sunday” interview released Saturday by the network.
“He’s in charge of, I guess, the largest company in the world,” Trump said. “He’s in charge of an oil company that’s pretty much double the size of its next nearest competitor. It’s been a company that’s been unbelievably managed.”
The president-elect said a “great advantage” Tillerson would have as chief diplomat is “he knows many of the players — and he knows them well.”
Sen. Bob Corker, previously thought to be under consideration for the secretary of State position, called the ExxonMobil boss “a very impressive individual” in a Saturday evening tweet. As Senate Foreign Relations chairman, the Tennessee Republican would oversee Tillerson’s confirmation hearing.
If it is Rex Tillerson, he is a very impressive individual.
Still, Tillerson will be a controversial choice for many lawmakers responsible for confirming him as a result of his far-reaching ties to Russia. To that end, Trump noted on Fox that Tillerson has “done massive deals in Russia.”
A Trump transition spokesman had not responded to an email seeking comment as of press time.
Besides Corker, the oil executive beat out 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney; former CIA Director David Petraeus; John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and John Huntsman, a former Utah governor and onetime U.S. ambassador to China.
Tillerson, 64, was honored in 2012 with the Kremlin’s Order of Friendship, in large part for his effort to cement a huge 2011 energy deal with Russia, and is seen as unusually close, for an American, to President Vladimir Putin.
He has spent his entire career at the multinational oil and gas behemoth, which he has led since 2006. He is estimated to have a net worth of tens of millions of dollars and comes with no prior government experience.
His Senate confirmation hearing is expected to be ripe with controversy, including likely Democratic questions about ExxonMobil-funded work to cast doubt on the scientific consensus around climate change, and bipartisan worries about the positions he has previously taken toward Moscow, including urging the lifting of sanctions, which have negatively impacted Exxon’s business interests in Russia.
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain told NBC News on Saturday that he had concerns about Tillerson’s Russian ties.
“I don’t know what Mr. Tillerson’s relationship was with Vladimir Putin, but it’s a matter of concern to me,” McCain said.