The ex-CEO said “I don’t know” in regard to numerous questions about the company he led.

Former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson shocks Senate by asserting he doesn’t know whether the company lobbied for or against sanctions that killed a $500 billion deal with Russia he had negotiated. Screenshot of C-SPAN.

In his hearing to be confirmed as Secretary of State, Exxon’s Rex Tillerson portrayed himself as a Chief Executive Officer (and Board Chair) who had no idea what the company was doing in several areas, including that of his greatest responsibility: Russia.

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping exchange of the day occurred when Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) followed up on Tillerson’s amazing claim that neither he nor Exxon ever lobbied against sanctions against Russia in response to their incursions in Ukraine. Menendez showed Tillerson the documents Exxon filed, which proved they had lobbied on sanctions.

Tillerson then professed utter ignorance of whether Exxon was lobbying for or against sanctions, saying, “I don’t know” twice.


The idea that Tillerson doesn’t know how Exxon lobbied — on an issue of clear interest to the company he was leading — defies logic.

Tillerson was in charge of Exxon’s holdings in Russia beginning in January 1998. Tillerson was “the long-time director of a U.S.-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas,” as the UK Guardian reported last month. In 2013, Putin gave then-CEO Tillerson the highest award a foreigner can receive — the Order of Friendship — for negotiating a $500 billion deal with Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned (i.e. Putin-controlled) oil company.

Did Putin help elect Trump to restore $500 billion Exxon oil deal killed by sanctions

When Tillerson hedged on Exxon’s lobbying, Menendez appeared shocked. The Senator knows Exxon would never pay millions of dollars to lobby for sanctions that killed deals with Russia worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Since Tillerson feigned ignorance regarding Exxon’s position on sanctions, he also had to claim to be ignorant about USA*Engage, an organization Exxon is part of that exists to oppose sanctions. Yet, from mid-2003 to mid-2007, the co-chair of USA*Engage had been a senior Exxon employee. But Tillerson claimed to know nothing about it.

Last month, Politico ran a story headlined, “ExxonMobil helped defeat Russia sanctions bill.” In May 2014, Tillerson told Exxon shareholders, “We do not support sanctions, generally, because we don’t find them to be effective unless they are very well implemented comprehensively and that’s a very hard thing to do.” He added, “We always encourage the people who are making those decisions to consider the very broad collateral damage of who are they really harming with sanctions.”

Yet when presented at his confirmation hearing with clear evidence that Exxon had lobbied on the sanctions, Tillerson had the chutzpah to assert he didn’t know which side Exxon lobbied on.

This was only the most outrageous of many unbelievable assertions by Tillerson. He didn’t think we knew enough about Putin’s crimes to call him a “war criminal.” He testified that he and Trump didn’t talk about any specific Russian issues when they met. He claimed ignorance on how Exxon used a foreign joint venture to skirt the Iranian sanctions — even though Exxon had responded in detail to SEC questions on this issue after he had become CEO. And he simultaneously feigned ignorance and refused to answer the question of whether Exxon had kept funding disinformation on climate science even after the company had promised to stop.

The “best” interpretation of the hearing is that Tillerson was a terrible CEO who knew nothing about what was happening at the company he was running. But the far more likely truth is that Tillerson, like ExxonMobil (and Trump and Putin), is a master of straight-faced disinformation.

Either alternative points to the conclusion that Tillerson is unfit for this ultra-essential cabinet post, which was first held by Thomas Jefferson, and is fourth in line to be president of the United States.

Tillerson pleads ignorance on Exxon’s Russian sanctions lobbying was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.