Exxon Mobil Corp chief executive officer Rex Tillerson has emerged as the leading candidate for secretary of state in president-elect Donald Trump’s administration, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Mitt Romney, who was the 2012 Republican nominee for president and a critic of Trump during this year’s campaign, remains on the short list of candidates, according to the people, who has asked for anonymity because the discussions are private. Trump has said he will make an announcement this week.
Tillerson moves to the forefront as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has withdrawn from consideration to become secretary of state or serve in any other capacity in the new administration, the transition team announced.
Tillerson has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin that go back almost two decades - he was awarded the country’s Order of Friendship and as recently as last year visited with officials in Putin’s inner circle. That connection could make him a useful bridge between the Russian leader and Trump. The president-elect has repeatedly said he’d seek a more cooperative relationship with Moscow.
Under Tillerson’s leadership, Russia became Exxon’s single biggest exploration theatre as the company amassed drilling rights across tens of millions of acres, dwarfing its holdings in its home country, formerly its largest drilling opportunity, according to US Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
When the Putin regime forced Royal Dutch Shell and other foreign investors to cede control of a massive gas export project on Sakhalin Island in 2007, Exxon’s holdings in the same region remained intact and untouched by the government.
Exxon is under fire from state attorneys general in New York, Massachusetts and elsewhere amid allegations the company misled investors for years about the projected long-term impact of climate change on its businesses, as well as whether Exxon has properly written down the value of its reserves following a global collapse in prices. The company has denied the allegations and said the valuation of its assets meets all legal standards.
Giuliani had been named by transition officials as one of the contenders to be the nation’s top diplomat, but has decided to remain in the private sector, according to a statement Friday from Trump’s transition office. He withdrew from consideration during a meeting with Trump on Nov. 29, the statement said.
“Rudy would have been an outstanding member of the Cabinet in several roles, but I fully respect and understand his reasons for remaining in the private sector,” Trump said in the statement.
Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, said Friday on Fox News that the list currently includes “a very diverse group.” In addition to Tillerson and Romney, she mentioned Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford Motor Co, former CIA Director David Petraeus, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, and Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican.She also said “Mayor Giuliani is still in the mix,” an assertion at odds with the announcement that he took himself out of the running earlier.
In New York City, Giuliani gained praise for overseeing a drop in violent crime and for his handling of the September 11 attacks – earning the nickname “America’s Mayor” – but he left office with a reputation as one of the most divisive chief executives in the city’s history.
Critics raised questions about how Giuliani’s fiery temperament would fit the role of a diplomat. 
Senator Rand Paul, a Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee who’s wary of foreign entanglements, raised concern about the former mayor’s work for foreign governments and companies and his history of giving paid speeches after he left the New York mayor’s office in December 2001.
Reince Priebus, who will serve as Trump’s White House chief of staff, said in the transition office’s statement that the former mayor “was vetted by our team for any possible conflicts and passed with flying colours.”