The chairman of the Senate panel that will vote early next year on the nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state said today he "felt more than reassured relative to his views on Russia" after talking with ExxonMobil CEO last Thursday.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he expects a lot of questions of Tillerson in the confirmation hearings next month over what Tillerson once described as "a very close relationship" with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tillerson, who has long dealt with Putin regarding Russian oil supplies, helped negotiate a joint venture with the Russian government-owned Rosneft and the Exxon CEO was awarded Russia's Order of Friendship in 2012.
"I had very good conversation with (Tillerson) last Thursday by phone and I look forward to sitting down with him one and once when we get back in Washington on Jan. 2," Corker said in a telephone interview today with the Times Free Press. "His views regarding Russia's various nefarious activities did not seem out of the mainstream. So I think he understands the role that Russia has been having in disrupting Europe and how nefarious they have been in a number of ways. He is developing a way to counter that."
Corker noted that his previous role at Exxon Mobil, Tillerson worked with foreign leaders around the globe on behalf of the company where he worked for 43 years.
"In many ways, these CEOs act like secretaries of state for their companies," Corker said. "I've talked with (Tillerson) several times through the years about multiple issues and he's been a tremendous resource."
Tillerson has said he will sell all of his stock in ExxonMobil by the time he would join the Trump administration "and my sense it that he will be able to make that step from the private sector to the public sector with a lot of knowledge and background," Corker said.
Corker said last week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will conduct a review of Russia's hacking of the U.S. presidential elections despite Trump's initial skepticism of such claims. Corker told CNN he would hold open hearings and classified sessions to get to the bottom of Russian involvement.
The Armed Services Committee led by Arizona Sen. John McCain and the Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, also plan their own probes into Russia's attempted influence of the recent presidential election.
"Putin remarkably and disappointingly has ended up being front and center on the world stage," Corker told CNN.
Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor who was elected to the U.S. Senate 10 years ago, was one of the leading candidates considered by Trump to become the next secretary of state. Corker said he "felt very good about the process" Trump used to pick in Cabinet.
"I didn't really feel any disappointment at all," Corker said about the call he got from Trump last week telling him of his pick of Tillerson. "I just wanted him to pick the person he was most comfortable with and I know I know I am gong to be highly involved with them in the role that I am in. So it really didn't phase me. I wish I could say that it did, but it really didn't.