Tillerson to face Senate grilling over Russia, Iran ties

Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson will face grilling Wednesday over his ties to Russia and Iran at the Senate confirmation hearing to be Donald Trump’s secretary of State.

Several Republican senators — John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida — have joined Democrats in expressing concern about Tillerson’s close business relations with Russia.

Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will likely question Tillerson about his dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In 2013, the oil executive received Russia’s Order of Friendship award, which is given to foreign nationals who the Russian government believes have worked to better relations. Tillerson received the honor after inking a deal with a Russian oil company. He has also been critical of U.S. economic sanctions against Russia.

ExxonMobil did business with Iran, Syria and Sudan through a European subsidiary while Tillerson was a top executive of the oil firm, and those countries were under U.S. sanctions as state sponsors of terrorism, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. That business connection was legal but could still surface during questioning at the confirmation hearing.

Tillerson, 64, started working for Exxon in 1975 until he resigned from the company to join Trump’s Cabinet. Tillerson started as a production engineer and moved up the ranks before becoming chairman and CEO in 2006. His experience negotiating with foreign governments — including governments hostile to the United States — was one of the reasons the president-elect selected him.

“The thing I like best about Rex Tillerson is that he has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments,” Trump tweeted after announcing Tillerson’s appointment in December.

Tillerson was president of the Boy Scouts of America for two years beginning in 2012. He also was a longtime board member and an Eagle Scout. He was involved in Scout leadership when the organization made the decision to allow openly gay members.

Last year, Tillerson was investigated by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over whether ExxonMobil had misled investors and regulators about climate change despite having research proving the contrary.

Tillerson called the charges “pretty unfounded,” and ExxonMobil sued to stop the subpoena demanding decades of the company’s records. The New York State Supreme Court has ruled that the company must turn over the documents.

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Contributing: Eliza Collins, Oren Dorell 

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