Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who has close Russia ties, is front-runner for secretary of state.

Exxon CEO Tillerson, Who Has Close Ties to Russia, Is Front-Runner for Secretary of State

Exxon CEO Tillerson, Who Has Close Ties to Russia, Is Front-Runner for Secretary of State

The Slatest
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Dec. 10 2016 1:32 PM

Exxon CEO, Who Has Close Ties to Russia, Is Front-Runner for Secretary of State

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Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks during the 2015 Oil and Money conference in central London on Oct. 7, 2015.

Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

The reality show that will decide who will be the country’s top diplomat in Donald Trump’s administration continues and a new front-runner seems to have emerged. Rex Tillerson, the powerful president and chief executive of Exxon Mobil, is now seen as the top contender for the job and could very well become the latest wealthy businessman to join the president-elect’s administration. Tillerson met with Trump on Tuesday and the two may talk again this weekend. Although it's still unclear when exactly Trump will announce his pick, it seems the president-elect wants to make an announcement next week, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Tillerson’s name has emerged at the top of the pile as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani formally withdrew from the very public competition. Trump himself confirmed Giuliani’s withdrawal from consideration, writing on Twitter that the former mayor is “one of the finest people I know.”

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Naming the head of Exxon as the country’s top diplomat will undoubtedly be met with much controversy at least in part because of the executive's long ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin that date back almost two decades. During his time as head of the largest oil company in the United States, Tillerson has worked to strengthen relations with Russia, turning the country into “Exxon’s single biggest exploration theater,” reports Bloomberg. In 2011, he negotiated an energy partnership with Russia that could eventually be worth as much as $500 billion, according to Putin. Further confirmation of Tillerson's close relationship with Putin came in 2012, when Moscow awarded him the country’s Order of Friendship decoration.

It isn’t just with Russia though. Having Tillerson as head of the State Department could open up all sorts of conflicts of interest considering Exxon operates in more than 50 countries.

Mitt Romney is still reportedly in the running for the job, but it seems his star is fading a bit amid the infighting that his possible nomination has sparked among Trump allies. Former Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus, former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, and retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis are also reportedly still in the running for the key Cabinet post.

Update at 3:30 p.m.: Following reports that the president-elect had already made up his mind and would be choosing Tillerson, Trump spokesman Jason Miller said no official announcement is expected until "next week at the earliest."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.