Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson said Thursday that he is disturbed that President-elect Donald Trump has been filling his Cabinet with climate deniers and ideologues rather than people with suitable experience in diplomacy and government.
In a conversation with Yahoo News Guest Anchor Alexis Christoforous, Richardson took particular issue with Trump’s decision to nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as secretary of state.
“I’m disturbed that the top diplomat of the United States, fostering American diplomacy, peacekeeping, conflict-resolution, is the head of ExxonMobil. That sends a signal that Big Oil is very prominent in our diplomacy. It gives me discomfort,” said Richardson, a former Democratic presidential candidate, energy secretary under the Clinton administration and governor of New Mexico.
Richardson said he is heartened that former Secretary of State James Baker, who served under President George H.W. Bush, thinks Tillerson, 64, is qualified for the post. But Richardson cautioned that he’s still concerned about the oil and gas executive’s personal and business ties with Moscow.
“They made all these oil deals that may be good for ExxonMobil, but are they good for the American taxpayer? For the geopolitical situation in the world?” he asked.
Richardson suggested that retired Gen. David Petraeus, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney all would have been preferable choices to be Secretary of State John Kerry’s successor. Trump publicly named all three as potential picks.
“I would’ve had no problem with Gen. Petraeus, with Rudy Giuliani, with Mitt Romney. You know, everybody has some baggage, some problems, but overall I think Giuliani is respected abroad. Romney seems to be a reasonable person. Gen. Petraeus has a good record in the Middle East, military and diplomatic,” he said.
Giuliani was unusually public about his pursuit for the secretary of state post, and he spent months as one of Trump’s most loyal and outspoken surrogates on the campaign trail. On Tuesday, he told CNN that he took himself out of the running and was “OK with the choice” of Tillerson. He said Trump tapped him for two other high-level Cabinet positions, but he turned both down.
Tillerson’s relationship with Russia is particularly troubling to many critics amid reports that Putin was directly involved in the hacks and leaks that targeted the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Russia of interfering with the election, and the CIA notably said the Kremlin specifically worked to boost Trump.
Tillerson joined ExxonMobil in 1975 and has spent his entire career with the energy giant. As CEO, he maintained close ties to Russia and opposed economic sanctions after the annexation of Crimea in March 2014.
In 2013, Putin personally awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship, which is one of the highest honors Russia awards to foreign citizens. The award was seen as a gesture of gratitude for his role in brokering a deal between ExxonMobil and Rosneft, a state-owned Russian oil company.