December 6, 2023

His name is Conflict-of-Interest




Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

His name is Conflict-of-Interest

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – It is a raw exercise of Robber Baron power. Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil is being nominated for secretary of State by President-elect Donald Trump. His name is Conflict-of-Interest. The man, a personal friend of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, has received an award from Russia, and his company has significant business dealings with that nation as well as with other countries led by even more unsavory characters.

Prominent and powerful Republican senators have already voiced their misgivings about this lamentable nomination, yet Trump went ahead anyway, appearing at first glance to be following his normal modus operandi of doubling down. In fact, it is far more nefarious.

The oil and gas industry, of which ExxonMobil is the largest player, is a large benefactor to many, if not most, politicians, and it is clear that Trump is counting on that generous largess to overcome Senate confirmation problems. All assumptions must be put aside. Only a handful of Republican votes are needed to join with Democratic votes to achieve Senate rejection, but those few cannot be guaranteed. And Democratic senators can no longer be expected to unanimously oppose Tillerson, because neither they nor their Republican brethren are immune to the need for political donations, including the financing of their all-important political action committees (PACs). At least, this must be what is behind Trump’s apparently pointless move.

This is the titanic struggle that is about to begin out of earshot, out of eyesight of the American public. Arrayed in this battle will be the power of money vs. the power of public office and the patriotism and fortitude that underlie it.

The nation has never witnessed anything like it. The original Robber Barons used their wealth to influence Congress and the Cabinet, and there were scandals, notably the Teapot Dome Scandal over oil leases in 1921-22. But these were domestic in nature. Now we have an oil baron with ties to an unfriendly foreign government being nominated for the most important position in the Cabinet.

Such a scenario tempts the raising of myriad conspiracy theories, but there is no need to go trolling in those waters when the bevy on the surface is so blatant.

True, we could believe that Trump selected a person devoid of any governmental or diplomatic experience to be the nation’s chief diplomat specifically because he is so close and familiar with Putin. We could believe that he expects to be confirmed by the Senate solely upon his persuasive testimony and not his money. We could believe that if confirmed he will act in opposition to his own and his company’s financial interests. Yes, we could believe these things. Or as a person caught in a compromising position might say, “Do you believe what you think you saw or what I am telling you?”

The better questions are: Why would Trump name such a conflicted and compromised person to such a position, and why would such a person want such a position and all the scrutiny that comes with the effort? Why?


          A discussion of Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4,” endorsed by seven flag officers, and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency”, may be found at: or by typing “C-SPAN” and “Cohn”

Twitter:  @douglas_cohn

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


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