Rex Tillerson will not be taking his Exxon stock with him to the State Department.
Late Tuesday, ExxonMobil announced that it had reached an agreement with its current CEO over the many millions of dollars in shares that the company still owes him.
Those shares had been an object of scrutiny, ever since Trump named the energy executive as his pick for secretary of State. Tillerson owns roughly $235 million in ExxonMobil stock — $180 million of which isn’t scheduled to vest for years.
Which is, as the (woke) kids say, problematic: In the early years of this decade, Exxon made a big play for Russia’s hardest-to-reach fossil fuels — inking deals to explore the Black Sea, frack the gas out of western Siberia, and drill for oil in the Arctic. These investments were so appreciated by Vladimir Putin, he awarded Tillerson his nation’s “Order of Friendship” in 2013.
But America’s sanctions against Russia — following the invasion of Crimea — sidelined all of those lucrative projects. Were Trump to pursue a Putin-friendly foreign policy, however, Exxon could resume its Siberian adventure. And Tillerson’s shares would (almost certainly) increase in value.
This reality — combined with the fact that Trump leaked word of Tillerson’s nomination hours after he disparaged a CIA intelligence assessment about Russia’s involvement in election interference — led the GOP’s most hawkish senators to advertise their ambivalence about the Exxon CEO.
But now Tillerson has eliminated his most conspicuous liability. If his appointment is confirmed, Exxon has agreed to let Tillerson transfer the value of his two million deferred ExxonMobil shares — which, at present, are worth $180 million — into an independently managed trust that’s barred from investing in Exxon. Tillerson would also sell the 600,000 Exxon shares he already owns, which are currently valued at around $55 million.
Finally, the Exxon CEO would forfeit the $4.1 million in cash bonuses he was scheduled to receive over the next three years, along with a host of retirement benefits.
The arrangement was developed with the aid of ethics regulators, according to Exxon. And, by all appearances, it affirms the principle that America’s top public servants shouldn’t be in a position to profit (directly) off their power.
But unlike cabinet appointees, the president is not bound by federal conflict of interest laws. And Donald Trump has shown little deference to that aforementioned principle: While Tillerson would forfeit partial ownership of his company upon joining the State Department, our next president is set to retain his, upon entering the White House.