“We are aware of the President’s statement regarding a hypothetical call with our CEO,” the company wrote on Twitter, “and just so we’re all clear, it never happened.”
Trump first invoked the company’s name onstage while claiming he could raise more money than Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who in recent months has gained a significant cash lead over the president.
“I call the head of Exxon. I don’t know, you know, ‘How are you doing? How’s energy coming? When are you doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits?'" Trump told supporters. “I say, ‘You know, I’d love [for] you to send me $25 million for the campaign.’ ‘Absolutely sir, why didn’t you ask? Would you like some more?’”
Trump went on about how he could be the greatest fundraiser in U.S. history. Yet the fastest way to do so — offering favors to friends on Wall Street and in corporate headquarters across the country — would compromise his own job in the White House, he acknowledged.
It is also illegal: Under federal law, soliciting these kinds of donations in exchange for specific policy outcomes is enough to land someone in prison.
This particular scenario is only the latest example of Trump’s jumbled, sometimes joking rally dialect. Yet after the rally, some following along online did not understand exactly where Trump was going with talk of a hypothetical bribery call. Had the president just laid out a textbook case of corruption?
Then, ExxonMobil stepped in with its unusual response to the president, denying Trump had offered to greenlight permits in exchange for millions of dollars in campaign contributions.
There is certainly no shortage of history between the president and the company, one of the world’s largest oil producers. Months after Trump picked chief executive Rex Tillerson as his first secretary of state, his administration praised a chemical and natural-gas expansion from the company, apparently copying part of an ExxonMobil news release nearly verbatim to do so.
Now, just two weeks ahead of Election Day, Trump has money on the mind. Going into September, Biden gained a $141 million cash lead over Trump for the first time in the campaign, a stunning reversal aided by a mix of big-ticket fundraising events and big news, including the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The same appears to be true in many down-ballot races, including in the hotly contested battle in Arizona for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Martha McSally (R), who accompanied Trump to his events there on Monday. Her opponent, former astronaut Mark Kelly (D), is one of three Democratic candidates challenging Senate incumbents who have smashed fundraising records in the third quarter of 2020.
While appearing beside Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in Prescott, Trump appeared to be trying to counter Biden’s recent cash haul by boasting about his own ability to rake in campaign contributions.
“I would be the greatest fundraiser in history,” he declared, noting that he would make Ducey — who comfortably outraised his Democratic challenger in 2018 — “look like a bad fundraiser.”
At the rally, Trump acknowledged this kind of hypothetical call would be both easy and illegal for him to make.
“All I have to do is call up the head of every major Wall Street firm, the head of every major company … ‘Do me a favor, send me $10 million for my campaign,’” Trump said. “I would take in more money, but you know what? I don’t want to do that. Because if I do that, I’m totally compromised.”
As the sound bite from the campaign trail became the latest target of liberal political outrage on Twitter, some critics pushed back against the president even talking about this kind of bribery.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) pointed out that exchanging policy for campaign dollars is illegal. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) chimed in, too. The hashtag #QuidProQuo began trending on Twitter. And then, Exxon joined the conversation, promptly shutting down any speculation of wrongdoing.
Trump is no stranger to high-dollar fundraising, even in recent weeks. Faced with a money crunch that has forced his campaign to pull some TV ads, he met last month with several deep-pocketed GOP donors, according to Reuters.
While he says he draws the line at offering them political favors, that did not keep him from dreaming about it, for all the world to see.
“If I made the call [to a CEO], I will hit a home run every single call,” Trump said at the rally. “I would raise a billion dollars in one day if I wanted to."