- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sen. Chris Coons on Tuesday said President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, brings “deep and broad” experience to foreign negotiations and will receive a fair and open confirmation process before the Senate.

But the Delaware Democrat warned there are “real differences” between striking an Arctic oil-drilling deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin and defending American values such as human rights and a free press.

And he’s keenly aware that financial sanctions on Moscow, for its forays into the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, have held back Exxon’s business dealings with Russia.

“It troubles me greatly that Mr. Tillerson would have reason to advocate for the rolling back of sanctions because that would be in the best interest of his company,” Mr. Coons said in a wide-ranging session with reporters. “It is my hope he is enough of a patriot to be able to separate his decades-long affiliation with this major oil company and the genuine interests of the American people.”

Mr. Trump formally announced Tuesday he planned to nominee Mr. Tillerson to lead the State Department after a lengthy interview process that also featured former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump loyalist, and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who’d fiercely criticized Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign.

“I’m not surprised after a long, public process that felt more like ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ than an interview for secretary of state that he’s ultimately settled on someone who has unquestionably been very successful in running a very large multinational company,” Mr. Coons said, citing Mr. Trump’s background as a real estate mogul who touted his business credential on the campaign trail. “He may have found a secretary of state nominee who is the closest fit for him.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed Mr. Tillerson for confirmation Tuesday, though the pick has encountered sharp criticism from both sides of the aisle over his connection to Mr. Putin, whose presence loomed over the presidential campaigns and now the White House transition.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed “serious concerns” Tuesday about the pick, saying the next secretary of state must be “someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests.”

For his part, Mr. Coons said his concerns with Mr. Tillerson were elevated by Mr. Trump’s opaque business interests and “flippant dismissal” of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was responsibility for high-profile hacks on U.S. political institutions in the run-up to November’s election.

“Given that the president-elect never released his taxes, we still don’t know the reach and scope of his business interests and potential conflicts or complications,” Mr. Coons said. “And I think the combination of credible allegations of intentional Russian action to interfere with our democracy, the lack of transparency or clarity into the president-elect’s business interests and legitimate concerns about the closeness between Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin will make for a fascinating series of confirmation hearings.”

Looking ahead to the new year, Mr. Coons said many of Mr. Trump’s have no record of government service, so they will be largely “from-the-beginning reviews of who they are.”

“I think we owe it to the American people to have fair and open hearings for all of Mr. Trump’s nominees,” he said.

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