Although Democrats do not believe they have much chance of stopping Rex Tillerson from being confirmed as secretary of state, they plan to focus sharply on potential conflicts of interests deriving from his finances in a proxy war over President-elect Donald Trump's refusal to fully and properly divest from his vast business empire, The Washington Post reported.
The confrontation is expected to come to a head Jan. 11, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to hold a two-part hearing to question Tillerson over his time as Exxon Mobil's CEO and what many say are unseemly links to Russia.
A warm-up to the expected grilling is already brewing after sources said Tillerson is apparently unwilling to provide complete tax returns, which Democrats are demanding from all Cabinet nominees, again as an apparent proxy attack on Trump, who broke recent precedent for a presidential candidate by refusing to do so.
But Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said years of precedent for Cabinet nominees has been "the committee just does not ask for tax returns . . . unless there was a case where there's some irregularity that's known."
However, Corker does acknowledge it is reasonable Tillerson will be asked more questions than normal, since, if confirmed, he would be the first secretary of state in decades that has not previously worked as a public servant or member of the military.
Corker said if Tillerson is going to be "advising the president on foreign policy, a president who hasn't been involved in foreign policy in his business life, we certainly want to understand fully the kind of advice he would be giving the president as secretary of state."
Opposing Views reported a particular point of concern for Democrats and Republicans is Tillerson's relationship and business dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who awarded Tillerson the Kremlin's Order of Friendship in 2013.
Tillerson opposed sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014 as a reaction to the annexation of Crimea and Moscow's support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Key GOP Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio have expressed concerns over Tillerson, with his ties to Russia being one of the issues, especially following CIA allegations Russia attempted to influence the presidential election in favor of Trump.
Also raising concerns is the revelations by The Guardian this week Tillerson was the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas.
Leaked documents show he became a director of the oil company's Russian subsidiary, Exxon Neftegas, in 1998 and apparently remained one until after becoming Exxon CEO in 2006.
Rubio issued a statement: "The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America's interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America's foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage."
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