Graham on secretary of state choice Rex Tillerson: Many questions must be answered

U.S. Senator 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, who is known in Washington and nationally for his foreign policy perspectives and is a member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, said that Tillerson, now the ExxonMobil CEO, “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 prepared 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 comes as news of a leaked Central Intelligence Agency report raises questions on whether Russia sought to influence the U.S. presidential elections, and did so with the intent of helping Trump get elected.

Graham’s comments followed those over the weekend by 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.”

Tillerson in 2013 was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship for a partnership with state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft on an Arctic Kara Sea drilling program. The next year, U.S. and international sanctions against Russia in the wake of the Crimean invasion put the program on hold.

Tillerson in the past has been critical of the sanctions.

While Graham was critical, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., was effusive Tuesday in his praise of Tillerson.

“President-elect Donald Trump has proposed another capable choice,” he said. “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.

Still, Graham said Tuesday: “I expect the U.S.-Russian relationship to be front and center in his confirmation process.”

Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews