Several online media outlets are claiming that president-elect Donald Trump plans to nominate Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his administration’s secretary of state. A troubling issue pointed out in The Hill is Tillerson’s reported close ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin. In 2011, Tillerson negotiated an energy deal with Putin reportedly worth $500 billion, and he was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship in 2012. The deal was put on hold earlier this year after sanctions were enacted against Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea. If nominated and confirmed as secretary of state, Tillerson would be in a position to work on lifting the sanctions.

Ties with Russia, however, are not the only cloud on the horizon with this potential nominee, and probably not the most troubling. In September 2016, the conservation advocacy group Conservation Law Foundation filed a suit in the U.S. District Court in Boston, alleging that an Exxon Mobil bulk storage and distribution facility near Boston Harbor continues to pollute the waterways and endanger local communities. In addition to this lawsuit, Exxon Mobil is under investigation in several places, including New York and Massachusetts, to determine whether the company lied to investors and committed fraud by covering up the risks of climate change for years. The SEC is also looking into how Exxon Mobil values projects amid climate change and lowering oil prices.

Seldom has a candidate for the post of America’s top diplomat brought such baggage to the process. Tillerson’s potential conflicts of interest rival Trump’s own, but unlike Trump, who claims that as president he ‘cannot have conflicts of interest’ based on the Constitution, Tillerson has no such cover. He will have to sever his ties with his company, which will probably satisfy the legal requirements. What it won’t do, in the case of his Russia ties or the climate change issue, is remove the suspicion at every decision he makes while in office. As secretary of state, he would legally (or at least ethically) recuse himself from a broad range of issues.

One has to wonder whether or not the Trump transition team has taken any of this into consideration. Or have they, like their boss, just decided that they can do anything and get away with it?  

Published by Charles Ray