Senator John McCain said on Thursday that he has “concerns” about ties between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson.
McCain told Reuters that Tillerson, the outgoing chief executive at ExxonMobil, will have to elaborate on his relationship with Putin during Tillerson’s confirmation hearing.
“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 Reuters.
McCain added that he will give Tillerson an “opportunity to make his case about why he is qualified to be Secretary of State.”
Tillerson was nominated by incoming president Donald Trump to lead the State Department earlier this month.
McCain was among the first senior Republicans to express concerns about Tillerson’s ties to Putin and his views on sanctions.
In 2013, Tillerson was awarded the Order of Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin, about two years after Exxon signed a strategic cooperation deal with Russia’s Rosneft.
During Exxon’s 2014 shareholders meeting, Tillerson said Exxon “does not support sanctions” because the firm believes they are usually “not effective.”
According to a transcript seen by NBC News, Tillerson added during the meeting that sanctions are effective only when “implemented comprehensively.”
Tillerson added that successfully implementing sanctions is a “very hard thing to do.”
McCain told CBS News earlier this month that Tillerson’s “close personal relationship” with Putin is a matter of “concern.”
Senator Lindsey Graham echoed those concerns and said that there are “many questions” to be answered about Tillerson’s “extensive business dealings with the Putin government & previous opposition of efforts to impose sanctions on the Russian government.”
Tillerson has worked at ExxonMobil for more than 41 years and has never held public office.
Tillerson, 64, will retire from his Exxon post on January 1.
Darren W. Woods, currently president of ExxonMobil, will serve as Exxon’s chairman and CEO after Tillerson’s departure.
Trump cited Tillerson’s international business experience as a key reason behind his nomination.
In a series of Twitter messages, Trump said that Tillerson is “one of the truly great business leaders of the world.”
Trump added that “the thing I like best about Rex Tillerson is that he has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments.”
The American Petroleum Institute applauded Tillerson’s nomination, calling him a “world class” choice.
“As our nation’s next top diplomat, Rex has the strategic experience to effectively represent the new administration and the American people,” API President and CEO Jack Gerard said in a statement.