Rex Tillerson is facing a massive conflict of interest that he can't avoid. That conflict has to do with with the Scrooge McDuck-ish pile of Exxon stock options that he has accumulated in his 41 years at the fossil fuel giant. While Tillerson could sell off about half his $345 million haul, the other half isn’t quite so easy.
1.9 million shares held by Tillerson, worth over $177 million, were not vested at the end of 2015. And they’re not scheduled to vest for years.
As a result, Tillerson will have his future tied irrevocably to that of ExxonMobil while serving as secretary of state. Which might be considered a cause for concern, and is certainly a unprecedented conflict of interest. But in some quarters, it’s also a cause for celebration.
The incoming secretary of state will have his own wealth connected directly to the future of ExxonMobil. A future that, in turn, is strongly connected to whether or not the US continues sanctions on Russia.
Mr. Trump’s pick, Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, built his name on deals with Russia; President Vladimir Putin awarded him Russia’s Order of Friendship for his work here. He has opposed the sanctions imposed in response to Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and support for an antigovernment rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
What’s an invasion and a few manufactured riots (especially when those riots were arranged by Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort)? Lowering those sanctions could generate millions more for Tillerson, and half a trillion for Putin. It’s the kind of deal that apparently impressed Donald Trump.
Trump doesn’t seem to recognize that Tillerson’s every negotiation with a foreign government has been a variation on “how much money am I going to give you?” with no downside for the people on the other side of the table.
In the case of Vladimir Putin, Tillerson dangled a cool $500 billion in front of the Russian autocrat. It’s an amount that would clean up problems with Russia’s economy and remove limits on their aggressive policies. It’s enough to literally turn the course of geopolitics, and it’s an effort Tillerson has been backing to the limit.
“Exxon has been willing to engage in practices that make it a first-round contender for new Russian assets,” Mr. Amsterdam said. “The way you do that is coming as close to the line as humanely possible to support the Russians” without breaking the law.
It’s easy enough to see why Russians like Tillerson. He’s promising to eliminate all their problems at a stroke, and Trump’s appointment of the Exxon CEO makes that stroke a near certainty. What’s harder to understand? The growing affection that many Republicans feel for Vladimir Putin.