US President-elect Donald Trump has decided to nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillersron as his secretary of state, ignoring concerns about Tillerson’s alleged ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, transition officials say. Trump arrived at the decision on Monday night, sources within his transition team said, noting that the incoming Republican president would officially announce his pick on Tuesday morning.
The reports gain more credibility after a Facebook post by close Trump confidante and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “Rex Tillerson will be an extremely effective Secretary of State. He knows the world, he knows how to make deals internationally, and although it’s hard for the Washington elites to comprehend that Donald J. Trump could nominate someone who is not a bureaucrat, Tillerson has exactly the right kind of determination and toughness we need to fix the State Department,” he wrote. Tillerson went to Trump Tower in New York City on Saturday to meet with the real estate magnate, a meeting that drew fire from the both sides of the aisle.
Republican Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the nature of Tillerson’s ties with Moscow was a “matter of concern.” “I don’t know what Mr. Tillerson’s relationship with Vladimir Putin was, but I’ll tell you it is a matter of concern to me,” he told Fox News on Saturday. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and environmental group Green Peace also reacted negatively to the news.
“Trump’s outrageous pick of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State demonstrates once again that he lied to the country about draining the swamp,” DNC spokesman Adam Hodge said in a statement. He said the choice amounted to another victory for Putin after the election of the New York businessman, who favors cooperation with Moscow. Under Tillerson’s management, the energy giant ExxonMobil negotiated a major energy deal with Moscow in 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal. Putin said at the time that the deal could be worth over $500 billion.
A year later, the Russian government awarded Tillerson with the Russian Order of Friendship, one of the country’s most prestigious awards given to foreign nationals. The deal was halted after Moscow was hit with a set of Western sanctions over US allegations of Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict. Exxon Mobil, however, has indicated that it would resume the project once the sanctions are lifted, a process that could be accelerated under Tillerson. He has been publicly skeptical about the sanctions.