US President-elect Donald Trump has selected Exxon Mobil Corp CEO and Chairman Rex Tillerson as the next US Secretary of State, topping off his cabinet list with political novices and alleged Russophiles.
Tillerson's appointment will rankle nerves in the US political and diplomatic circles as the top oil executive had opposed the US sanctions against Russia in the aftermath of the seizure of Crimea by Moscow. He was the key figure behind Exxon's expansion in Russia and the partnership with Russian oil giant Rosneft.
Tillerson is also known to have close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin who awarded him Russia's Order of Friendship in 2013.
Trump selected Tillerson after considering political heavy weights like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, for the post of the top American diplomat. Both Romney and Giuliani said later they said were no more in the race for the position of secretary of state. CIA director David Petraeus, former UN ambassador John Bolton and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker were also in the running for the job at Foggy Bottom.
Trump came under fire from both Democratic and Republican political circles after the selection processed zeroed in on Tillerson, who has had more than 20 years of ties with Putin's Russia, which many in American establishment considers as a security threat for the country.
Tillerson has entered into billions of dollars worth oil contracts with Russian companies which can proceed only if the US lifts sanctions on Moscow. This will invariably bring his actions in official role under scrutiny.
Senior republican figure and former presidential candidate Senator John McCain said Tillerson's connections to Putin were a matter of concern. "Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying," McCain said on Fox News.
However, Trump praised Tillerson and said he was much more than a business executive. "I mean, he's a world-class player ... He knows many of the players and he knows them well. He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals for the company, not for himself, for the company," Trump said.
It was reported on Friday that the CIA reached the conclusion that Russia tried to help Donald Trump win the US presidential election. US intelligence officials who spoke to the Washington Post said known Russian state actors passed on thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta to WikiLeaks.
Also on Friday, US President Barack Obama ordered a deep dive investigation into the cyber attacks, allegedly by Russian hackers, that marred the presidential election this year. Administration insiders said Obama ordered probe into the 'malicious cyber activities' lest the Russians go unpunished under a Trump administration.