President-elect Donald Trump has — and has had for some time — a good list of qualified and confirmable nominees for secretary of state. In that group we would include Mitt Romney, John Bolton and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Why would he need to go running after fringe characters or yet another general (who would certainly exhaust the Senate’s indulgence of Trump’s infatuation with military men, having swung 180 degrees from his assessment that they are all “rubble”)?
Among the worst, the most preposterous, contenders is ExxonMobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson. How did he even get on Trump’s list? One theory is that Trump recently met with former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and former defense secretary Robert Gates, two principals in the RiceHadleyGates consulting firm that reportedly had been hired by Exxon. Another is that Trump and national security adviser-designee Mike Flynn’s Russia-toadying is at work here. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Friends and associates said few U.S. citizens are closer to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin than Mr. Tillerson, who has known Mr. Putin since he represented Exxon’s interests in Russia during the regime of Boris Yeltsin.
“He has had more interactive time with Vladimir Putin than probably any other American with the exception of Henry Kissinger,” said John Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary during the Clinton administration and president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank where Mr. Tillerson is a board member.
In 2011, Mr. Tillerson struck a deal giving Exxon access to prized Arctic resources in Russia as well as allowing Russia’s state oil company, OAO Rosneft, to invest in Exxon concessions all over the world. The following year, the Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship decoration on Mr. Tillerson.
Gulp. Oh, and he publicly spoke out against sanctions against Russia.
That might be reason alone for the Senate to nix his nomination — although it is not the only one. For one thing, there is yet another conflict-of-interest issue. (“One of the first issues Mr. Tillerson would have to resolve as secretary of state would be his holdings of Exxon shares, many of which aren’t scheduled to vest for almost a decade. The value of those shares could go up if the sanctions on Russia were lifted.”)
And then there is the accusation that ExxonMobil engaged in a massive attempt to conceal global warming data from the public:
The world’s largest oil explorer by market value had been hit by a pair of multipart investigations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times. Both reported that as early as the 1970s, the company understood more about climate change than it had let on and had deliberately misled the public about it. One of Exxon’s senior scientists noted in 1977—11 years before a NASA scientist sounded the alarm about global warming during congressional testimony—that “the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”
A flock of environmental groups demanded a federal racketeering probe of ExxonMobil while New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman opened his own probe. An entire #ExxonKnew campaign is in high gear and would no doubt use a confirmation hearing to try ExxonMobil on its alleged efforts to cover up global warming, making this a nightmare for climate-change deniers. Tillerson has said he thinks climate change is real (which will be a bitter pill for Republicans to swallow), but ExxonMobil’s actions in past years have set environmental groups on a mission to prove in essence that ExxonMobil used the same kind of tactics cigarette companies deployed to deny that cigarettes cause cancer.
So why in the world would Trump be considering this guy? Maybe the people-pleaser Trump is trying to butter up whoever recommended Tillerson. That said, his nomination would be a disaster, one that could enrage anti-Russia hawks in both parties and anger both climate-change believers and deniers. In short, the only person who would like this nomination would be — you guessed it — Putin.