John McCain isn't going to let Rex Tillerson become secretary of state without answering tough questions about Vladimir Putin

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain wants Tillerson to explain his relationship with Russia's prez

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 29, 2016 6:53PM (EST)


It won't only be Democrats who oppose many of President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet picks. As Sen. John McCain of Arizona made clear on Thursday, he won't vote to confirm Rex Tillerson as secretary of state unless the ExxonMobil CEO answers some tough questions.

"I and several of my colleagues have concerns about Mr Tillerson, and some of his past activities, specifically his relationship with Vladimir Putin," McCain told reporters as he went on a speaking tour of the Baltic states.

McCain added, "I have concerns but at the same time I'm certain we will give Mr Tillerson an opportunity to make his case about why he is qualified to be secretary of state."

One of McCain's chief concerns about Tillerson's relationship with Putin, as he explained, was that Tillerson had opposed sanctions against Russia after the superpower's annexation of Crimea. McCain has long been a staunch critic of Putin, including his famous quip that he looked into Putin's eyes and "saw three things — a K and a G and a B."

McCain didn't pass on the opportunity to take another swipe at Putin on Thursday.

"I agree with president elect that we need to get on of our lives — without having elections being affected by any outside influence, especially Vladimir Putin, who is a thug and a murderer," McCain said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has joined McCain on his trip, added that the sanctions against Russia need to be directed toward Putin personally.

"I think the sanctions need to go beyond what it is today, they need to name Putin as an individual and his inner circle because nothing happens in Russia without his knowledge and approval," Graham said.

During his tenure as CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson cozied up with the oligarchs who control Russia in order to succeed in doing business there. He oversaw $500 billion joint venture in 2011 between ExxonMobil and Rosneft, the Russian-owned oil company. When Western sanctions against Russia squelched that deal, Tillerson denounced the sanctions. He has also been bragged about having a "very close relationship" with Putin.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Donald Trump John Mccain Rex Tillerson