Rex Wayne Tillerson, Nominee, Secretary of State
On December 13, 2016, Rex Tillerson was nominated as President-Elect Trump’s Secretary of State. Mr. Tillerson is the chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil. He has chosen to retire from this company in light of his nomination.
Mr. Tillerson began his career with ExxonMobil in 1975, moving up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming the chairman and CEO in 2006. As such, he has worked with a broad range of businesses and with many different countries. Mr. Tillerson’s business dealings with and within Russia have caused some concern as to whether there will be a conflict of interest if he is confirmed by Congress as the next Secretary of State.
Business Ties and Friendship with Russia
Mr. Tillerson represented ExxonMobil’s business interests in Russia during the premiership of President Boris Yetlzin, working closely with Vladimir Putin. Mr. Tillerson is also a personal friend of Igor Sechin, who is the current leader of the Kremlin’s Siloviki [security/military] faction. It is widely believed and reported that Mr. Sechin is the second most powerful person in Russia, after President Putin.
In 2011, negotiations between Mr. Tillerson, on behalf of ExxonMobil, and Russia successfully netted the company an agreement to drill in the Artic, with a rumored price tag of over $300 billion. The company began drilling in 2014, in the Kara Sea. Despite sanctions against Russia that year, over their interference in Ukraine, ExxonMobil was given a reprieve until October 2014. That reprieve from Russian sanctions allowed the company to discover a new major oil field that netted the Russian government 750 million new barrels of oil, before work was halted.
In 2013, Tillerson was awarded the Order of Friendship by President Putin, for his cooperation on behalf of ExxonMobil for development of Russia’s energy sector.
Possible Scrutiny during Senate Confirmation Hearings
Several Senators have already voiced concerns about Mr. Tillerson’s close ties to President Vladimir Putin, along with his friendship with Igor Sechin, his shares in ExxonMobil stock that can’t be sold, and the way in which he maneuvered access to Russia despite strained relations with the US during the above mentioned sanctions.
Senate Criticisms have included Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), tweeting that “Being a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) stated on “Face The Nation” that “It’s a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin […] And obviously they’ve done enormous deals together and that would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat.” (Emily Schulthies, CBS News, 2016)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told the Washington Post, “I don’t know the man much at all, but let’s put it this way: If you received an award from the Kremlin, [an] Order of Friendship, then we’re gonna have some talkin’,” Graham said. “We’ll have some questions. I don’t want to prejudge the guy, but that’s a bit unnerving.” (Steven Mufson, Washington Post, 2016)
There is no doubt that the Secretary of State deals with many diplomatic issues and must always represent the United States’ interests first and always. Much discussion will come during Mr. Tillerson’s confirmation hearing as to whether he can effectively perform this role without allowing his personal dealings with powerful leaders in Russia to sway his diplomatic efforts on behalf of the United States.
Emily Schulthies, CBS News. (2016, December 11). John McCain doesn’t know what to make of Trump’s Russia hacking response. Retrieved from CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/john-mccain-donald-trump-russia-hacking-response/
Steven Mufson, Washington Post. (2016, December 10). Trump expected to pick ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state. Retrieved from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-expected-to-pick-exxonmobil-chief-executive-rex-tillerson-as-his-secretary-of-state/2016/12/10/6e018e90-bd9e-11e6-94ac-3d324840106c_story.html?utm_term=.019889e050d1