President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, met Monday in Washington, D.C. with a team of national security experts — including Rep. Peter King and veterans of President George W. Bush’s administration — to discuss foreign policy ahead of his confirmation hearings, the Seaford congressman said.
“We were asking questions the way the senators would ask them,” King, a Republican, told Newsday, calling Tillerson “very well-versed, very knowledgeable.”
Trump chose Tillerson to be the nation’s next top diplomat weeks before President Barack Obama announced sanctions Thursday against Russia after U.S. intelligence officials concluded the government of President Vladimir Putin had hacked American email accounts in a bid to disrupt the presidential election.
The sanctions further strained relations between the two countries but Trump has tweeted praise for Putin’s response and has continued to say he’s not convinced the government of the Russian leader, a former higher up in the communist-era KGB, was behind the hacking.
The Exxon Mobil chief executive’s close business ties to Russia and Putin have raised concerns among senators of both parties, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
King acknowledged U.S.-Russian relations will be a key issue during Tillerson’s hearings later this month before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But the congressman stressed he had great confidence in Tillerson, who he said doesn’t need much preparation for the expected contentious hearings.
“He was showing how his dealings with Russia and his knowledge of Russia would be very beneficial to the president,” King said, declining to elaborate further. “And there’s no doubt that he’ll be asked by both Republicans and Democrats about Russia, because the president-elect is talking about certainly at least adjusting our policy toward Russia.”
Trump transition spokespeople Hope Hicks and Sean Spicer did not comment Monday on the meeting at the president-elect’s transition offices in Washington, D.C. The president-elect spent the day at Trump Tower in Manhattan.
King said the two-hour session with Tillerson included former Bush national security adviser Stephen Hadley and former Bush chief of staff Andrew Card, among about four or five other participants.
The group will meet with Tillerson again in the near future, he said.
King — a member of the House Committee of Homeland Security — said one challenge he believes Tillerson will easily overcome is speaking about business transactions in layman’s terms.
“I think he’d be a good spokesman for America in the world and, I would think, a tough negotiator,” the congressman said.