On Tuesday morning, Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state for George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009, issued a statement applauding President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state nominee.
Rice wrote that she knows Tillerson “as a successful business man and a patriot,” and believes he “will represent the interests and the values of the United States with resolve and commitment.”
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What Rice didn’t note, however, is that she has a business relationship with Tillerson, as Exxon is a client of the Rice Hadley Gates consulting firm she runs with former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
In 2013, Iraq Oil Reported reported that Rice and Hadley “have been consulting Exxon ‘on Iraq, and the broader region as well’ since at least 2011.” The report details how deals Exxon struck with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in October 2011 amid territorial disputes with the Iraqi government created problems both for Exxon and the United States.
Gates also applauded Tillerson’s appointment in a statement released Tuesday morning, though he at least acknowledged his business relationship with Exxon.
Politico reports that Trump decided to first interview Tillerson for the secretary of state job at the recommendation of Rice and Gates.
Tillerson’s appointment comes amid a swirling controversy about Trump’s conflicts of interest that intensified Monday night when Trump announced he is postponing a press conference he had scheduled to discuss how he would “be leaving my great business in total” until January, after the Electoral College convenes on December 19.
Trump reportedly plans to maintain ownership of his international business operation while president, an arrangement that violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause and has led some legal experts to conclude the Electoral College should reject him.
As CEO of Exxon, Tillerson worked on a $500 billion deal Exxon struck with Russia in 2011 that provided the world’s largest supermajor with access to huge oil resources in the Russian Arctic. The arrangement was put on hold in 2014 when the United States placed sanctions on Russia for illegally annexing Crimea and engaging in covert military operations in eastern Ukraine, but during an MSNBC interview on Tuesday morning, incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus wouldn’t commit to keeping those sanctions in place once Trump becomes president.
As the Guardian’s Julian Borger wrote on Tuesday, “if the sanctions were lifted, the Arctic project would probably go ahead and Tillerson’s retirement fund of ExxonMobil stock would increase in value. He would most likely have to divest himself of stock by the time he entered the office on the seventh floor of the state department. It might be harder to divorce his judgments entirely from the oil company where he spent his career.”
While Rice and Gates approve of Trump’s Tillerson choice, at least one Republican senator has signaled a willingness to vote him down. In a statement released Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that while Tillerson is “a respected businessman,” he has “serious concerns about his nomination.” Rubio specifically mentioned conflicts of interest as being one of his concerns.
“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,” Rubio said. “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.”