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Senators have raised a lot of questions about Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state. They're concerned about former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson's many business dealings around the globe, particularly in Russia. Tillerson has now severed ties with the company to try to ease some of those concerns. A confirmation hearing could come as early as next week, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Rex Tillerson spent his entire career at Exxon and would have reached retirement age in March. The company says he's giving up about $7 million in compensation in order to sever ties early. But ExxonMobil is paying him up front in cash for the 2 million shares he would have received over the next decade and putting that estimated $180 million in an independently managed trust.
Tillerson has also committed to selling off the ExxonMobil shares he currently owns if he's confirmed as secretary of state. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, is calling for a prompt hearing now that Tillerson's paperwork is in.
BOB CORKER: It looks like it's all tidied up and done, so I think he'll have a good hearing.
KELEMEN: But the ranking Democrat, Ben Cardin of Maryland, says he didn't have enough time to go through that ethics plan before meeting Tillerson today. He's also still holding out for Tillerson's tax returns.
BEN CARDIN: I still have always felt that the supplying of the three years of tax returns was an important part of the process.
KELEMEN: Corker has argued that isn't necessary, but Democratic staffers point out that previous secretaries of state held public positions before, so they had a longer history of financial disclosures. That's not the case for Tillerson. And Cardin still has many questions about how much Tillerson will distance himself from ExxonMobil's interests.
CARDIN: The fact that he was CEO of ExxonMobil and his responsibility was primarily to the stockholders and, if he's confirmed as secretary of state, his responsibilities are to the American people - we went over that.
KELEMEN: Take, for instance, Tillerson's experience in Russia. At first, the U.S. supported ExxonMobil's joint ventures with the Russian energy company Rosneft, but things changed, says former U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul.
MICHAEL MCFAUL: After Russia invaded Ukraine, the Obama administration put sanctions on many people, including Rex Tillerson's partner Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft. And that's when ExxonMobil's policy and U.S. policy came into tension.
KELEMEN: Tillerson also ignored U.S. State Department advice to American CEOs last year to stay away from a business forum in St. Petersburg. McFaul says that made a big impression on the Kremlin at the time.
Republicans and Democrats have been raising concerns about his Kremlin ties. Cardin, the Maryland Democrat, had what he calls a candid conversation with Tillerson about that already.
CARDIN: Russia is not a friend of the United States. We have serious concerns about Russia. I think that's a strong bipartisan message that you're going to hear during the confirmation process.
KELEMEN: A process he says is only just beginning. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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