Rex Tillerson is the CEO of ExxonMobil. His ties around the globe include a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. USA TODAY NETWORK

Donald Trump isn’t the only person headed to the U.S. government’s executive branch saddled by legal issues.

As the president-elect tapped ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as the chief U.S. diplomat, a judge issued a ruling that could help decide the outcome of state investigations into the energy giant’s statements on climate change and the firm’s accounting disclosures.

Those are just two of several issues federal lawmakers could explore during Senate confirmation hearings expected early next year for Tillerson’s appointment as secretary of State. The hearings are likely to focus on Tillerson’s business negotiations and other dealings with Russia President Vladimir Putin, along with questions about ExxonMobil’s federal contracts.

The legal battle with New York, Massachusetts and other states hinges on whether ExxonMobil (XOM) properly disclosed the potential impact of climate change on the company’s finances and gave investors accurate values for the firm’s assets during a two-year oil price slump.

On Dec. 12, Texas U.S. District Court Judge Ed Kinkeade ordered the top legal officials of New York and Massachusetts to file written arguments by Jan. 4 addressing ExxonMobil’s contention that the New York and Massachusetts probes are politically motivated and should be terminated. The ruling came in a lawsuit the energy giant filed in June as part of an effort to block the investigations.

The lawsuit characterized the investigations as “a coordinated effort to silence and intimidate one side of the public policy debate on how to address climate change.”

ExxonMobil has been part of that debate for decades, participating in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since its inception and supporting a carbon tax as a preferred system to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, the company says in its lawsuit.

As potential evidence of bias by the state officials, the legal action quoted Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey as saying her investigation would show “a troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew” and what the company “chose to share with investors and the American public.”

The lawsuit cited alleged close coordination between “sympathetic” state attorneys general and climate change activists seeking records from ExxonMobil that could fuel possible investor lawsuits.

Denying the company’s allegations, the state officials said their investigations are aimed at protecting ExxonMobil investors and U.S. consumers from potential fraud.

“When an energy company makes disclosures about the impact of climate change and related government policies on that company’s core business, New York law requires it do so accurately — and not present an external picture materially at odds with what the company or its executives have concluded internally,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said in a court filing last week.

Attempting to gauge the accuracy of the company’s disclosures, Schneiderman in November 2015 subpoenaed ExxonMobil financial records, statements and other climate-change-related material dating to 1977. He filed a New York state court lawsuit seeking to compel related disclosures by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, an accounting firm for ExxxonMobil.

The company said it had disclosed information about the business risk of climate change for many years in Securities and Exchange Commission filings and other shareholder reports.

This year, Schneiderman’s investigation broadened to examine why ExxonMobil, unlike other U.S. energy giants, had not written down the value of oil and gas assets during the industry-wide price plunge. Many companies “write down” the value of assets on their financial statements when they may no longer be able to produce as much income. Theoretically, Exxon’s decision could have led investors to believe the company was more valuable than it really was.

ExxonMobil said its financial results met the accounting and reporting standards of the SEC and the Financial Accounting Standards Board. The response underscored statements Tillerson made in 2015 to trade publication Energy Intelligence.

“We don’t do write downs,” Tillerson said in the interview. “A lot of other people are very quick to want to write things down because it kind of improves things going forward. As part of our disciplined approach going forward, everyone around here understands, once you make that investment, you live with that the rest of your career. If you have invested in a high-cost environment and things go south, you better have anticipated your ability to work on the things you can work on to sustain the profitability of that investment.”

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kevin McCoy on Twitter: @kmccoynyc

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