By Maria Curi and Emily Kresse
President-elect Donald Trump announced Dec. 13 that he had picked ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to serve as the next secretary of State. Tillerson’s ties to Russia have incited concern among Iowa Democrats.
ExxonMobile has billions of dollars in deals that would benefit if the United States lifted sanctions against Russia. Tillerson, 64, has also been awarded a friendship award from Russia.
In response to Tillerson’s nomination, “ Iowa Democratic Executive Director Ben Foecke issued a statement:
“We at the Democratic Party believe the Tillerson nomination cannot stand. Further, we call on Republicans in Congress to investigate the Trump administration’s ties to Russia and other Trump conflicts of interest with the same fervor with which they investigated Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s email server.”
Neither the Iowa GOP nor Environmental Protection Agency regional spokeswoman Angela Brees returned The Daily Iowan’s requests for comment.
The appointment comes shortly after the CIA believes Russian hackers influenced the November election in Trump’s favor, which may lead to a contentious Senate confirmation. Trump chose to go after the CIA in a series of tweets.
Early on Dec. 12, Trump tweeted, “Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory.”
Minutes later, he followed up tweeting, “Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?”
Tom Henderson, the chairman of the Polk County Democratic Central Committee, said he is more concerned with Tillerson’s ties to Russia than solely with his position as ExxonMobil CEO.
“What’s concerning are his close ties to Russia and the potential for conflicts of interest, and Republicans are taking these ties to Russia very seriously,” Henderson said.
Although Trump has rejected the CIA’s conclusion that Russia may have influenced the 2016 election, top U.S. congressional Republicans such as Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan have called for a bipartisan investigation.
“If Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama nominated a secretary of State with ties to Putin, especially under the circumstance that Russia intervened in our election, the Republican calls of ‘treason’ would be deafening,” Foecke said.
Tillerson does not have formal policy experience but has engaged in international business and formed relationships with world leaders through his position at ExxonMobile.
“Secretaries of State have to follow diplomatic protocol all over the world, and they can be given advice, but because [Tillerson has] never done it all, then that’s a problem,” Henderson said.
If Tillerson becomes the head of the State Department, he will have to face an increasingly difficult situation in Syria, most recently what U.N. humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke called “a complete meltdown of humanity in Aleppo.”
“His tenacity, broad experience, and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for secretary of State,” Trump said in a statement released on Dec. 13 by his transition team.