Trump taps Exxon CEO Tillerson as top U.S. diplomat

Joshua Roberts—Reuters
Rex Tillerson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President-elect Donald Trump announced Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his choice for secretary of state Tuesday, praising him as a successful international dealmaker who leads a global operation.Tillerson’s experience in diplomacy stems from making deals with foreign countries for Exxon, the world’s largest energy company, although questions have been raised about the oil executive’s relations with Russia.”He will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America’s vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America’s security and standing in the world,” Trump said in a statement.Tillerson, who like Trump has never held public office, said he shared the president-elect’s “vision for restoring the credibility of the United States’ foreign relations and advancing our country’s national security.”Trump picked Tillerson, 64, after the Texan was backed by several Republican establishment figures, including former Secretary of State James Baker, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a senior transition official said.Rice and Gates both issued statements of support on Tuesday.Their support is seen as crucial to helping Tillerson get past a possibly contentious Senate confirmation battle likely to focus on his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who was also under consideration for the post, said in a statement that he would hold a nomination hearing in early January. He called Tillerson “a very impressive individual” with “an extraordinary working knowledge of the world.”In 2013, Putin bestowed a Russian state honor, the Order of Friendship, on Tillerson, citing his work “strengthening cooperation in the energy sector.”Trump is confident that Tillerson can get past questions about his ties to Russia, the transition official said.”His relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none,” Trump’s statement said.Lawmakers from both major parties have raised questions about Tillerson and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who has been mentioned as a possible No. 2 State Department official and who has voiced hawkish views on Iraq and Iran.Republicans and Democrats said they would ask Tillerson, who has met Putin several times, about his contacts with Russia. He won fresh praise from Moscow on Monday.Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading foreign policy voice and the 2008 Republican candidate for president, told Reuters: “I have concerns. It’s very well known that he has a very close relationship with Vladimir Putin.”The business community welcomed Trump’s choice of Tillerson.”We are pleased that Rex will bring a business perspective to the State Department,” the National Association of Manufacturers said.BUSINESS INTERESTSWhile busily filling out his Cabinet, Trump is seeking to answer questions about how he will separate himself from his far-flung business empire before taking office on Jan. 20.He had planned a Thursday news conference to lay out the details but delayed it until Tuesday due to what aides said was the crush of picking people to serve in his administration.In a series of late-night tweets Monday, Trump said he would be leaving his business before Jan. 20 so he can focus full-time on the presidency and that he would leave sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump to manage it.He did not mention his daughter Ivanka, who has been a central player in his business affairs and who is said to be considering a move to Washington to help her father.”No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office,” Trump said.He said he would hold a news conference “in the near future to discuss the business, Cabinet picks and all other topics of interest. Busy times!”Meanwhile, Trump has continued to build his administration.A source close to the transition said Trump had chosen former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as his nominee for energy secretary, with an announcement expected soon. Perry met Trump on Monday at Trump Tower in New York.In choosing Tillerson, Trump passed over 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who had famously criticized the president-elect during the campaign this year.”It was an honor to have been considered for secretary of state of our great country,” Romney said in a Facebook posting on Monday night.