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Secretary of State pick's ties to Russia concern some in GOP

Posted: 1:44 PM, Dec 13, 2016
Updated: 2016-12-14 09:26:39-05
Secretary of State pick's ties to Russia concern some in GOP

President-elect Donald Trump nominated Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson Tuesday to be secretary of state after weeks of speculation over who would fill the job, but it quickly became clear some Republicans aren’t comfortable with his choice.

Trump considered Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and others before picking Tillerson.

 “The thing I like best about Rex Tillerson is that he has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments,” Trump said in a statement announcing the nomination.

Some Republican members of Congress, along with other conservatives, greeted the decision with far less enthusiasm, and it’s Tillerson’s close ties with Russian President Vladimir that seems to bother them most. Tillerson received the Kremlin’s “Order of Friendship” award in 2013.

Frank Gaffney, president of the conservative Center for Security Policy, called the nomination Trump’s first serious misstep because of Tillerson’s business and personal connections with Putin. 

“While Mr. Tillerson is clearly an extraordinary executive, his business dealings and personal ties with Putin would make him a real liability for the President-elect,” Gaffney said on his podcast. “At this time especially, Mr. Trump needs a secretary of state unencumbered by any perceived pro-Kremlin alignment. So does our country.”

Some Republican senators also expressed skepticism.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted earlier this week when Tillerson’s name was being tossed around, “Being a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState.”

After hearing Tuesday morning that Tillerson’s nomination was official, Rubio released a statement adding that he had “serious concerns” about him in the secretary of state role.

“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. I look forward to learning more about his record and his views. I will do my part to ensure he receives a full and fair but also thorough hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” the statement read.

Rubio sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will consider all State Department nominees, including Tillerson.

It’s been no secret that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been wary of Trump’s own ties to the Kremlin throughout his entire presidential campaign. While McCain hasn’t released a statement regarding the president elect’s secretary of state pick, he did take to Twitter on Tuesday to retweet two Wall Street Journal articles regarding Russia. One of the headlines read, “Russia’s Syria Doublespeak;” the other he captioned with a quote “The Russians’ methods would make Macbeth blush and Richard III smile."

Over the weekend, McCain said on “Face the Nation” that Tillerson would get a fair Senate hearing but that he had reservations about him being the nominee.

“It’s a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin,” he said. “And obviously they’ve done enormous deals together and that would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., previously has voiced alarm over Tillerson’s seemingly friendly relations with Russia — specifically questioning the “Order of Friendship” award.

“I don’t know the man much at all, but let’s put it this way: If you received an award from the Kremlin, [an] Order of Friendship, then we’re gonna have some talkin’,” Graham said. “We’ll have some questions. I don’t want to prejudge the guy, but that’s a bit unnerving.”

On Tuesday Graham tweeted four posts about Tillerson, with this being the first one:

Graham’s subsequent tweets drew into question his “extensive business dealings” with Putin and said there were many questions to be answered about his previous opposition to sanctions on Russia. He concluded that he expected the U.S.-Russia relationships to be “front and center” in Tillerson’s confirmation process.

While not denouncing the Tillerson nomination, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested in a tweet Tuesday that the committee hearing to vote on Tillerson will be an interesting one.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the nomination in early January.