U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Tuesday issued a lukewarm-at best-endorsement of President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state choice, Rex Tillerson.
Graham — known for his foreign policy perspectives and a member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee— said Tillerson, now chief executive of ExxonMobil, “is a talented businessman with a great deal of international business experience.”
But he raised concerns about Tillerson’s ties to Russia.
“I look forward to meeting Mr. Tillerson and discussing his world view – especially his views of the U.S.-Russian relationship,” Graham said in a statement. “Based upon his extensive business dealings with the Putin government and his previous opposition of efforts to impose sanctions on the Russian government, there are many questions which must be answered.”
The statement came as news of a leaked Central Intelligence Agency report raised questions about whether Russia sought to influence the U.S. presidential elections, trying to help Trump get elected.
Graham’s comments followed those over the weekend by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who told Fox News that “Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.”
McCain called Tillerson’s connections to Putin and Russia “a matter of concern.”
In 2013, Tillerson was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship for a partnership with the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft on an Arctic Kara Sea drilling program. The next year, in the wake of the Crimean invasion, U.S. and international sanctions against Russia put the drilling program on hold.
In the past, Tillerson past has been critical of the sanctions.
While Graham was critical, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, was effusive Tuesday in his praise of Tillerson, calling him “another capable choice.”
“As one of America’s most successful business leaders promoting job creation and energy independence, I am confident that Mr. Tillerson will achieve a positive difference for American families,” Wilson said.