January 11, 2017

Kaine Questions Tillerson On Trump’s Foreign Financial Interests, Record On Climate Change At ExxonMobil

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committees, participated in a confirmation hearing for former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, President-Elect Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State. During the hearing, Kaine pressed Tillerson on his lack of awareness of the President-Elect’s foreign financial interests and their potentially harmful impact on U.S. foreign policy, as well as on ExxonMobil’s history of promoting and funding climate science denial – both of which Tillerson refused to address.  

Excerpts of Kaine’s questioning are below:

Kaine: Without full disclosure of all of the President’s financial interests, isn’t there a chance you might be across the table in a negotiating setting? Say, with Russian officials, who know more about the President’s financial interests and exposure than you do?

Tillerson: Not to my knowledge.

Kaine: If that was the case, wouldn’t that put America and our national interests at somewhat of a disadvantage?

Tillerson: If it’s not to my knowledge it isn’t going to change the way I’m negotiating with them.

Kaine: But if someone on the other side of a negotiating table – you’ve been in negotiations – has more knowledge than you do, is that not something that could put you at a disadvantage?

Tillerson: I think as long as the objective of a negotiation is clear – what are we trying to achieve – that’s all that matters. If you achieve the objective the art of negotiating is just how you achieve that objective.

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Kaine: There’s been a great deal of coverage of ExxonMobil’s history with the issue of climate change. … These articles conclude the following: ExxonMobil concluded, as early as the 1970s, that pollution from CO2 released by the burning of fossil fuels was affecting the climate in potentially destructive ways. Despite this knowledge, ExxonMobil took public positions against the scientific consensus regarding climate science. ExxonMobil funded outside organizations that publicly denied, downplayed and obscured the scientific consensus; and despite claims to the contrary, continues to provide funding yet at a lower level to outside groups that deny, downplay or obscure the scientific consensus. Are these conclusions about ExxonMobil’s history of promoting and funding climate science denial, despite its internal awareness of the reality of climate change during your tenure with the company true or false?

Tillerson: Senator, since I am no longer with ExxonMobil, I’m in no position to speak on their behalf. That question would have to be put to them.

Kaine: I’m not asking you to speak on ExxonMobil’s behalf. You were with the company for nearly 42 years?

Tillerson: That is correct.

Kaine: And for the majority of your time, you were with the company in an executive and management position?

Tillerson: Approximately half the time.

Kaine: And you became CEO in 2006?

Tillerson: Correct.

Kaine: So I’m not asking you on behalf of ExxonMobil. You’ve resigned from ExxonMobil. I’m asking you whether those allegations of ExxonMobil’s knowledge of climate science and decision to fund and promote a view contrary to its awareness of the science, whether those allegations are true or false.

Tillerson: The question would have to be put to ExxonMobil.

Kaine: Then let me ask you this. Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or are you refusing to answer my question?

Tillerson: A little of both.

Kaine: I have a hard time believing you lack the knowledge to answer my question.

A full transcript of Kaine’s questioning is below:

ROUND 1

Kaine: Mr. Tillerson, thank you for your willingness to serve. Congratulations on your nomination. How much information do you have about financial connections between President-Elect Trump, the Trump family or Trump Organizations and Russian individuals or organizations or the Russian government?

Tillerson: I have no knowledge.

Kaine: And if I asked you the same question and substituted Turkey, China, Pakistan or Japan for Russia in that question, would your answer be the same?

Tillerson: I have no knowledge.

Kaine: So I gather from your answer you’ll then have no way of knowing how actions proposed by President Trump regarding those countries or others would affect his personal or family financial interests?

Tillerson: I have no knowledge.

Kaine: How is a Congress or the American public supposed to fully judge the official actions proposed by a President Trump if we lack basic information about how those actions may benefit his personal finances?

Tillerson: That is a question that others will have to address, Senator.

Kaine: You’re aware that government leaders of many of the countries that you dealt with in your capacity as CEO of ExxonMobil have used their positions of leadership to greatly advance their personal wealth while they were in office, correct?

Tillerson: I have no direct knowledge of that.

Kaine: But you’ve read press accounts, for example, about folks like Vladimir Putin or the leaders of Equatorial Guinea and other nations suggesting that they have amassed great personal wealth while in office, correct?

Tillerson: I’m aware of the press reports.

Kaine: Do you think that such behavior by a head of government is in accord with values pf the United States or contrary to U.S. values?

Tillerson: If the reports are true and there has been inappropriate taking of funds that belong rightfully to the government, and that that is not provided for under the government’s laws, then that would be contrary to our values which are to respect the laws.

Kaine: Should Congress make sure that federal officials including the President do not use their public position to amass personal wealth while in office?

Tillerson: That is the standard in the United States. Yes, sir.

Kaine: Without full disclosure of all of the President’s financial interests, isn’t there a chance you might be across the table in a negotiating setting? Say, with Russian officials, who know more about the President’s financial interests and exposure than you do?

Tillerson: Not to my knowledge.

Kaine: If that was the case, wouldn’t that put America and our national interests at somewhat of a disadvantage?

Tillerson: If it’s not to my knowledge it isn’t going to change the way I’m negotiating with them.

Kaine: But if someone on the other side of a negotiating table – you’ve been in negotiations – has more knowledge than you do, is that not something that could put you at a disadvantage?

Tillerson: I think as long as the objective of a negotiation is clear – what are we trying to achieve – that’s all that matters. If you achieve the objective the art of negotiating is just how you achieve that objective.

Kaine: I want to switch and ask you some questions about climate change, following up on Senator Udall. We talked about this in my office. There’s been a great deal of coverage of ExxonMobil’s history with the issue of climate change. There was a recent two-part article in the New York Review of Books, prepared by members of the Rockefeller Family Foundation, and investigated by an independent team for the Columbia School of Journalism. In 2015 there was a three-part series in the Los Angeles Times and in the same year Inside Climate News did an eight-month investigation and produced a nine-part series that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, all on the question of ExxonMobil’s knowledge of basic climate science. These articles conclude the following – then I’m going to ask you some questions: 1) ExxonMobil concluded, as early as the 1970s, that pollution from CO2 released by the burning of fossil fuels was affecting the climate in potentially destructive ways; 2) despite this knowledge, ExxonMobil took public positions against the scientific consensus regarding climate science; 3) ExxonMobil funded outside organizations that publicly denied, downplayed and obscured the scientific consensus; and, 4) despite claims to the contrary, continues to provide funding yet at a lower level to outside groups that deny, downplay or obscure the scientific consensus. Are these conclusions about ExxonMobil’s history of promoting and funding climate science denial, despite its internal awareness of the reality of climate change during your tenure with the company true or false?

Tillerson: Senator, since I am no longer with ExxonMobil, I’m in no position to speak on their behalf. That question would have to be put to them.

Kaine: I’m not asking you to speak on ExxonMobil’s behalf. You were with the company for nearly 42 years?

Tillerson: That is correct.

Kaine: And for the majority of your time, you were with the company in an executive and management position?

Tillerson: Approximately half the time.

Kaine: And you became CEO in 2006?

Tillerson: Correct.

Kaine: So I’m not asking you on behalf of ExxonMobil. You’ve resigned from ExxonMobil. I’m asking you whether those allegations of ExxonMobil’s knowledge of climate science and decision to fund and promote a view contrary to its awareness of the science, whether those allegations are true or false.

Tillerson: The question would have to be put to ExxonMobil.

Kaine: Then let me ask you this. Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or are you refusing to answer my question?

Tillerson: A little of both.

Kaine: I have a hard time believing you lack the knowledge to answer my question, but that’s an editorial comment just like your comment was an editorial comment, with respect, refusing to answer my question. We talked in my office, you have severed your financial ties with ExxonMobil, correct?

Tillerson: That is correct.

Kaine: Are you subject to any confidentiality agreement that continues to be enforced that would limit your ability to talk about the matter I’m asking you about or any other matters concerning ExxonMobil?

Tillerson: Let me clarify my first answer. All the ties will be severed if I am confirmed.

Kaine: Absolutely. I got that.

Tillerson: I spoke too quickly.

Kaine: I understood that.

Tillerson: To my knowledge, I have no such confidentiality agreement in place, but I’d have to consult counsel.

Kaine: I’ll file that question for the record, and I would be curious as to whether there’s any existing confidentiality agreement and when the agreement was entered into. Mr. Chair, I want to enter a couple of documents in the record. First, a letter dated 1982 from the theoretical and mathematical sciences laboratory director Exxon research company, Roger Cohen, and I would just quote from it and enter it into the record. “September 2, 1982. Over the past several years, a clear scientific consensus has emerged regarding the expected climatic effect of increased atmospheric CO2. The consensus is that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from its pre-Industrial Revolution would result in an average global temperature rise of between 1.5 and 3.0 degrees centigrade. There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the Earth’s climate including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere. The time required for atmospheric CO2 depends on future world consumption of fossil fuels. In summary the results of our research are in accord with the scientific consensus on the effect of increased atmospheric CO2 on climate. We’re now ready to present our research to the scientific community through the usual mechanisms of presentations and publication. As we discussed in the August 24 meeting, there is the potential for our research to attract the attention of the popular new media because of the connection between Exxon’s major business and the role of fossil fuel combustion in contributing to the increase to atmospheric CO2. Our ethical responsibility is to permit the publication of our research in the scientific literature. Indeed to do otherwise would be a breach of Exxon’s public position and ethical credo on honesty and integrity.” And I would like to introduce that letter for the record.

Chairman Corker: Without objection.

Kaine: I would also like to introduce an Op-Ed series produced by ExxonMobil in 2000, and I will read the following. “Geological evidence indicates that climate and greenhouse gas levels experienced significant natural variability for reasons having nothing to do with human activity. Against this backdrop of large poorly understood natural variability it is impossible for scientists to attribute the recent small surface temperature increase to human causes.” And I would like to introduce that for the record.

Chairman Corker: Without objection.

Kaine: Mr. Tillerson, on one last subject. I know you’re familiar with the use of the phrase “resource curse” to describe the phenomenon whereby oil rich countries often find that their abundance of natural resources actually impedes development of a diverse economy and promotes authoritarianism, violence, environmental exfoliation, poverty and corruption. That’s not an iron law, but that is a much discussed topic in economic literature since the early 1990s. ExxonMobil does business in many countries – Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Indonesia, Angola – that have suffered through this phenomenon. I would like you to talk about as Secretary of State, where we have a development portfolio that tries to help nations raise sustainable economies. How will you work with nations that suffered under this resource curse, and how will you work with them to make sure they respect human rights, the rule of law and our longstanding commitment to transparency and anti-corruption?

Corker: Good question, succinct answer please.

Tillerson: Well there’s a lot of opportunity through our USAID programs to strengthen the institutional capacities and set standards of expectation in the developing part of the world, including those that have resource wealth.

Kaine: Mr. Chair, if I could put one more document in the record, and it’s a document from this committee, it was a report that was directed by Senator Lugar when he was the Ranking Member of the Committee in 2008 entitled “The Petroleum and Poverty Paradox: Assessing U.S. and International Community Efforts to Fight the Resource Curse”, and it has a number of suggestions for both the President and his Secretary of State that I think still have some merit and I would commend it to the attention of the witness.

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