US president-elect Donald Trump is set to pick Rex Tillerson to serve as secretary of state, overriding concerns about the high-profile ExxonMobil chief executive’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, reports said on Tuesday.
Tillerson, 64, has no formal exposure to diplomacy but he comes highly recommended for his contacts and reach by Bob Gates and Condoleezza Rice, former secretaries to President George W Bush, the reports said.
Trump is likely to formally name Tillerson on Tuesday. He said in a series of tweets he had been partial to Tillerson because of his deal-making around the world and the contacts he forged with world leaders as the head of ExxonMobil.
Tillerson is close to many of them, and his links with Putin could run into trouble with a bipartisan group of senators, including armed services committee chairman John McCain, who are calling for a probe into allegations Russia interfered in the election to help Trump win the presidency.
Others in the running for the job included Republican Mitt Romney; Bob Corker, chairman of the powerful senate foreign relations committee; former CIA director and celebrated general David Petraeus; and retired admiral James Stavridis.
Tillerson had a two-hour meeting with Trump on Saturday, the day after another major contender, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, took himself out of the race.
Tillerson’s Russian connection has become the highlight of most of the reporting on his candidacy for secretary of state, and some publications ran pictures of him with Putin to further underline that link.
The Trump transition team is vigorously pushing back on allegations that Russia interfered with the elections to ensure his victory, and might have to now explain Tillerson’s links to Moscow.
Tillerson has been with Exxon for more than 45 years, starting as a production engineer. He became chairperson and CEO in 2006 and beat back an attempt by founder John D Rockefeller’s family to separate the two offices in 2008.
And if Trump goes with Tillerson despite the backlash over his Russia links, he would be one more CEO and millionaire in the president-elect’s team, which is already the wealthiest in US history with a combined worth of $35 billion.