Trump Picks Exxon CEO Tillerson to Lead State Department

ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks during the IHS CERAWeek 2015 energy conference in Houston, Texas April 21, 2015. REUTERS/Daniel Kramer/File Photo
ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson. (Reuters/Daniel Kramer/File Photo)

WASHINGTON (Reuters/AP) - President-elect Donald Trump has announced his choice of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state, hailing him as “among the most accomplished business leaders and international deal makers in the world.”

In a release from his transition headquarters in New York, Trump calls Tillerson’s career “the embodiment of the American dream.”

He says Tillerson rose through the ranks “through hard work, dedication and smart deal making.”

“His tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for secretary of state. He will promote regional stability and focus on the core national security interests of the United States,” Trump said in a statement released by his transition team.

The selection could set him up for a potential fight with Congress over confirming Tillerson, who has connections with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Leading Republicans have already expressed anxieties about Tillerson, as they contend with intelligence assessments saying Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election to help Trump.

But two meetings with the oil executive impressed Trump, who called Tillerson a “world class player” in an interview on Fox News on Sunday.

In the interview, Trump pointed to Tillerson’s deep relations with Moscow as a selling point. As ExxonMobil’s head, he maintained close ties with Russia and was awarded by President Vladimir Putin with the Order of Friendship in 2013, an honor for a foreign citizen.

For weeks, Trump has teased out the decision process publicly, often exposing rifts in his organization. He also considered former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a one-time vocal Trump critic, and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who leads the Foreign Relations Committee. Romney wrote on social media Monday that it “was an honor to have been considered” for the job.

The unconventional vetting procedures are in keeping with Trump’s presidential style thus far, unconcerned with tradition or business as usual. In recent weeks, he’s attacked CIA intelligence, spoken to the leader of Taiwan and has continued his late-night Twitter tirades.