Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson is Donald Trump’s choice as secretary of state, NBC News reported on Saturday citing people close to the president-elect’s transition.
The report couldn’t be immediately confirmed. NBC said its sources cautioned that nothing is final until the president-elect makes an announcement. Trump has said he will announce his decision next week.
Further, NBC reported John Bolton would be deputy secretary of state under Tillerson.
Tillerson, who reaches Exxon's mandatory retirement age of 65 in March, has become the leading candidate for the post of top U.S. diplomat over the past few days, two people familiar with the matter said late Friday. Secretary of state is the highest-profile pick yet to be made by Trump. The position is subject to Senate confirmation.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president and a critic of Trump during this year’s campaign, remains on the short list of candidates, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.
Tillerson moved to the forefront as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani withdrew from consideration to become secretary of state or serve in any other capacity in the new administration, the transition team announced.
Tillerson has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin that go back almost two decades. He was awarded the country’s Order of Friendship and as recently as 2015 visited with officials in Putin’s inner circle. That connection could make him a useful bridge between the Russian leader and Trump, who has repeatedly said he’d seek a more cooperative relationship with Moscow.
Sen. John McCain on Saturday that's concerning.
"You have to examine it. You want to give the president of the United States the benefit of the doubt because the people have spoken, but Vladimir Putin is a thug, a bully and a murderer, and anybody who describes him as anything else is lying," McCain said.
"We cannot have an accommodation with the Russians until they understand what Ronald Reagan taught them and that is peace through strength. Right now we have no peace and we have no strength. 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," McCain said.
Under Tillerson's leadership, Russia became Exxon’s single biggest exploration theater as the company amassed drilling rights across tens of millions of acres, dwarfing its holdings in its home country, formerly its largest drilling opportunity, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
When the Putin regime forced Royal Dutch Shell Plc and other foreign investors to cede control of a massive gas export project on Sakhalin Island in 2007, Exxon’s holdings in the same region remained intact and untouched by the government.
Exxon is under fire from state attorneys general in New York, Massachusetts and elsewhere amid allegations the company misled investors for years about the projected long-term impact of climate change on its businesses, as well as whether Exxon has properly written down the value of its reserves following a global collapse in prices. The company has denied the allegations and said the valuation of its assets meets all legal standards.
Giuliani had been named by transition officials as one of the contenders to be the nation’s top diplomat, but has decided to remain in the private sector, according to a statement Friday from Trump’s transition office. He withdrew from consideration during a meeting with Trump on Nov. 29, the statement said.
"Rudy would have been an outstanding member of the Cabinet in several roles, but I fully respect and understand his reasons for remaining in the private sector," Trump said in the statement.
Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, said Friday on Fox News that the list currently includes "a very diverse group."
In addition to Tillerson and Romney, she mentioned Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford Motor Co., former CIA Director David Petraeus, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, and Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that Tillerson was the leading candidate.
In New York City, Giuliani gained praise for overseeing a drop in violent crime and for his handling of the Sept. 11 attacks -- earning the nickname “America’s Mayor” -- but he left office with a reputation as one of the most divisive chief executives in the city’s history.
Trump had few more loyal -- and combative -- allies throughout his presidential campaign than the 72-year-old former mayor and federal prosecutor. Giuliani vouched for Trump in the face of sexual-misconduct allegations, saying they didn’t ring true; criticized the Iran nuclear deal; and backed Trump’s claims that President Barack Obama founded Islamic State.
Critics raised questions about how Giuliani’s fiery temperament would fit the role of a diplomat. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee who’s wary of foreign entanglements, raised concern about the former mayor’s work for foreign governments and companies and his history of giving paid speeches after he left the New York mayor’s office in December 2001.
Reince Priebus, who will serve as Trump’s White House chief of staff, said in the transition office’s statement that the former mayor “was vetted by our team for any possible conflicts and passed with flying colors."
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