Donald Trump’s selection of a Putin friend for secretary of state is raising alarm in both parties that Trump intends to empower Vladimir Putin and refashion the U.S.-Russian relationship, now at its most adversarial point since the end of the Cold War.
Vladimir Putin was instrumental in the election of Donald Trump, according to a newly disclosed CIA report. Now, several legislators, including Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, fear Trump’s leading candidate for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has close ties with Putin, could empower the Russian dictator.
On Friday night, Trump’s office issued a defiant statement saying that U.S. intelligence officials are “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction” and that it’s “time to move on.”
But the Lawmakers warn that Tillerson’s nomination raises questions about trump’s relationship with the Russian President and would accelerate the president-elect’s collision course with Congress over Putin’s role in the election.
In a Saturday afternoon statement, a Democrats called Trump’s nomination of Tillerson “outrageous,” calling it “another victory for Vladimir Putin, who interfered in our election to help elect Trump and now has a close ally with no foreign policy experience serving as America’s top diplomat.”
“The Putin relationship will be a major focus” of Tillerson’s confirmation hearings, a Senate Democratic aide said . “Tillerson opposed sanctions efforts on Russia, he has received an award from Putin, and has done extensive oil business generally in the country,” the aide said.
Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are also likely to mount aggressive opposition to Tillerson, sources familiar with their remarks told Politico.
Western sanctions on Moscow, imposed as punishment for Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his support for a pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine’s east, have hit ExxonMobil hard. Tillerson, who became the company’s CEO in 2006 after starting his career as a production engineer there in 1975, signed agreements with Moscow to explore or drill in Siberia, the Black Sea and the Russian Arctic.
The sanctions have halted Exxon projects in the country, including a $700-million joint venture with the Russian oil giant Rosneft to drill in the Arctic Kara Sea. In a 2015 SEC filing, the company estimated its maximum potential losses due to western sanctions at $1 billion.
Obama could impose new sanctions on Russia or its top officials through executive orders. But Trump has vowed to reverse them with a stroke of his pen next month.