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By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON Dec 13 U.S. Senate Democrats plan to
enlist accountants and legal experts to pore through the
business records of Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Rex
Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of
state, Democratic aides said.
Tillerson could face a rocky confirmation process, given
concerns among both Democrats and Republicans about his ties to
Russia. If Tillerson can overcome the skepticism of Republicans,
he could win confirmation since their party will control a slim
majority in the Senate when Trump takes office on Jan. 20.
Democrats' misgivings about Tillerson go well beyond the
worry that he might be too accommodating toward Moscow. They see
risks of conflicts if the head of the $380 billion oil giant
becomes the nation's top diplomat and they want to ensure that
his personal wealth and business interests get close scrutiny.
Aides said Democrats began assembling experts to prepare for
Tillerson's confirmation even before his nomination was formally
announced on Tuesday.
"We will bring in people who have been through confirmation
battles before," a Democratic leadership aide said. "We want to
have a very thorough review. We are very comfortable with this
process taking as long as it needs."
In many ways, Exxon operates its own kind of diplomatic
corps, dispatching executives to network with government
officials in the more than 40 countries in which the company
"The scale and the reach of Exxon Mobil ... does raise some
questions about those relationships and how his experience at
the helm of Exxon Mobil will influence his decision-making as
secretary," said Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a member of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will hold Tillerson's
confirmation hearing next month.
Tillerson, 64, is on the New York Times' list of the 200
highest-paid CEOs, having earned some $24.3 million in 2016. He
has a net worth of $150 million, plus a $70 million pension
plan. He would likely need to divest his holdings of Exxon
Democrats are also consulting with foreign affairs experts
as they examine his relationships with countries such as Russia.
Tillerson opposed sanctions imposed on Russia after its
annexation of Crimea. He has said they are often ineffective.
Exxon has said the sanctions on Russia could cost it hundreds of
millions of dollars or more.
"We are looking at issues like, will he need to recuse
himself from decisions on sanctions?" another Democratic aide
Exxon has also come under attack for the financial
arrangements of its oil production in Chad, where the company's
lawyers are negotiating over a $74 billion fine tied to
accusations of royalty underpayment.
Exxon also has development rights in Iraq, which is battling
Islamic State, and Saudi Arabia, with its controversial record
on human rights and complex relationship with U.S. ally Israel
and Iran, whose international nuclear agreement signed by
President Barack Obama has been harshly criticized by Trump.
"Mr. Tillerson has demonstrated he knows the corporate world
and can put his shareholders' interests first, but can he be a
respected secretary of state that puts the national security
interests of the American people first?" asked Senator Ben
Cardin, the ranking Foreign Relations committee Democrat.
Tillerson enjoys strong support from Republican leaders, but
some party members offered more muted reactions.
Marco Rubio, a Republican member of the Foreign Relations
panel, who ran against Trump for the Republican presidential
nomination, said he had "serious concerns" about Tillerson's
Even critics said, however, they were open to the
appointment, if Tillerson gives satisfactory answers during the
"There are lots of ways that energy and our energy
dependence has influenced our foreign policy over decades, and
hopefully he will bring some insights as a result of that
experience," Coons said.
"It is not all bad that he's got 40 years of experience
globally in business," he added.
(Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in
Houston; Editing by Caren Bohan and Peter Cooney)