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Donald Trump picks Rex Tillerson to lead State Department

JULIE PACE AND CATHERINE LUCEY, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Tuesday, Dec 13th, 2016

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President-elect Donald Trump has tapped ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to lead the State Department, dismissing concerns about the businessman’s close ties to Russia and bringing a long public audition process to a conclusion.

Two people close to Trump’s transition team said Monday night that Trump had selected Tillerson. They insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the pick ahead of that announcement.

Trump was set to announce his nomination Tuesday morning. The selection could set him up for a potential fight with Congress over confirming Tillerson, who has connections with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Leading Republicans have already expressed anxieties about Tillerson, as they contend with intelligence assessments saying Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election to help Trump.

But two meetings with the oil executive impressed Trump, who called Tillerson a “world class player” in an interview on ‘Fox News Sunday.’

In the interview, Trump pointed to Tillerson’s deep relations with Moscow as a selling point. As ExxonMobil’s head, he maintained close ties with Russia and was awarded by President Vladimir Putin with the Order of Friendship in 2013, an honour for a foreign citizen.

For weeks, Trump has teased out the decision process publicly, often exposing rifts in his organization. He also considered former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a one-time vocal Trump critic, and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who leads the Foreign Relations Committee. Romney wrote on Facebook Monday that it “was an honour to have been considered” for the job.

The unconventional vetting procedures are in keeping with Trump’s presidential style thus far, unconcerned with tradition or business as usual. In recent weeks, he’s attacked CIA intelligence, spoken to the leader of Taiwan and has continued his late-night Twitter tirades.

Making yet another nontraditional choice, Trump heads out Tuesday for another week of travel, starting with a rally in Wisconsin.

Trump postponed a Thursday announcement about how he will handle his massive business empire, though it appears likely he will not follow other presidents and make a clean break from his personal holdings.

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