Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a group of reporters in New Zealand that, regardless of the ongoing scandal regarding alleged collusion between the Russian government and members of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, he was instructed to continue trying to improve relations between the two countries.
"The president's been clear to me: do not let what's happened over here in the political realm prevent you from the work that you need to do on this relationship and he's been quite clear with me . . . that we might make progress," Tillerson said on Tuesday, according to a report by Reuters. "I'm really not involved in any of these other issues."
When asked if he was concerned that the ongoing scandal could ultimately take down Trump's presidency, Tillerson replied, "I can't really comment on any of that because I don't have any direct knowledge."
Tillerson's selection to lead the State Department raised eyebrows at the time because of the former ExxonMobil CEO's close ties to the Russian regime. In 2011 Tillerson helped strike a $500 billion venture with Rosneft, a Russian oil company that is majority-owned by the Russian government. In addition, Tillerson bragged in 2016 that he had a "very close relationship with Putin."
Despite these reports, many political observers initially felt that Tillerson had been sidelined within the Trump administration, mostly to give way for the growing influence of the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. While his influence seems to have grown, he recently lost a high-profile internal battle within the administration to keep the president from pulling America out of the Paris climate accord.