This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the Senate committee hearing for secretary of state nominee and former ExxonMobil CEO
Rex Tillerson. On Wednesday, Tillerson refused to answer questions
about the oil giant’s long history of denying the science of climate
change, telling senators that scientific literature on climate change
is, quote, "inconclusive." Exposés by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times
have revealed Exxon knew that fossil fuels cause global warming as
early as the 1970s, but hid that information from the public and instead
poured millions of dollars into PR efforts aimed at sowing doubt over
the science of climate change. Tillerson was asked about these reports
by Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine.
SEN. TIM KAINE:
Are these conclusions about ExxonMobil’s history of promoting and
funding climate science denial, despite its internal awareness of the
reality of climate change, during your tenure with the company true or
Senator, since I’m no longer with ExxonMobil, I’m in no position to
speak on their behalf. The question would have to be put to them.
SEN. TIM KAINE: And let me ask you: Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or are you refusing to answer my question?
REX TILLERSON: A little of both.
SEN. TIM KAINE: Um, I have a hard time believing you lack the knowledge to answer my question.
This comes as a Massachusetts court has ruled that ExxonMobil must
comply with state Attorney General Maura Healey’s "Exxon Knew"
investigation, halting the company’s efforts to quash the inquiry into
what the company knew about the science of global warming. As he
testified Wednesday, Tillerson was repeatedly interrupted by protesters
from Greenpeace opposed to naming an oil company executive as secretary
of state. Outside, about 200 people rallied holding signs reading "#EXXONKNEW."
During the hearing, human rights concerns were also raised repeatedly.
Tillerson refused to label Saudi Arabia a human rights violator, avoided
condemning Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte over thousands of
extrajudicial killings carried out under his so-called war on drugs.
Tillerson said he would advise President Trump to veto any attempt to
end the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and said China should be barred from
artificial islands it’s built in the South China Sea. Tillerson broke
with Trump over the President-elect’s comment that it would not be a bad
thing for South Korea and Japan to build their own nuclear weapons.
This is Rex Tillerson under questioning from Massachusetts Democrat Ed
REX TILLERSON: Senator, I don’t think anyone advocates for more nuclear weapons on the planet.
SEN. ED MARKEY: Donald Trump said it would not be a bad thing. Do you agree with that or disagree that?
REX TILLERSON: I do not agree.
Rex Tillerson also denied knowledge of ExxonMobil’s efforts to prevent
U.S. sanctions against Russia, testifying he never personally lobbied
against sanctions. That prompted the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
chair, Republican Bob Corker, to respond, quote, "I think you called me
at the time."
For more, we’re joined from San Francisco by oil and energy journalist Antonia Juhasz. Her cover story for In These Times
is headlined "Rex Tillerson Could Be America’s Most Dangerous Secretary
of State." In it, she argues Tillerson spent his entire adult life
working for a company that’s left a trail of carnage, from human rights
abuses to the destruction of the environment, in its ruthless pursuit of
oil, according to Antonia Juhasz.
Antonia, welcome back to Democracy Now! You were tweeting the whole day of the hearing. You watched it. Talk about what was most significant.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, thanks for having me, Amy and Nermeen.
I would say the biggest takeaway from this hearing is that there is
no separating Rex Tillerson from ExxonMobil. And I think he made that
very clear in the hearings. He took the position again and again and
again, when being asked about questions around human rights, equality,
ethics—he took the position of the corporation over and over and over
again. In one very telling exchange, he was asked—you know, ExxonMobil
has done business over the years with basically every of the most brutal
dictators in the world. And he was asked, you know, "Is there a country
you wouldn’t work in, you wouldn’t work with, because of issues around
human rights and other abuses?" And he said, "Well, it depends on the
contract structure and the rule of law." And then he was pressed again:
"But what about human rights? What about other issues?" And basically he
said, you know, "No."
And there’s a very telling quote from 2008 by a vice president of ExxonMobil, so this is when Rex Tillerson was CEO.
And his vice president said, "In the pursuit of alternative energy, it
should not in any way harm or distract from the pursuit of oil and
natural gas." And I think you could replace "alternative energy" with
just about any phrase to understand Rex Tillerson and to understand
ExxonMobil. Oil and natural gas are paramount, and I think that is how
we could understand what his position would be as secretary of state.
I mean, it was very interesting to see Marco Rubio, the senator from
Florida, going after Tillerson, particularly around Russia and
sanctions. Did Tillerson lie when he said he didn’t, and he didn’t know
of his company—although Bob Menendez of New Jersey held up the lobbying
disclosure forms—didn’t lobby against sanctions?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, he certainly misspoke. So, I think what he was thinking—and again, this is the CEO speaking. So, we had the lobbying disclosure forms—
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip, so that it’s not me characterizing him.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: ExxonMobil and Rex Tillerson have met continually—
AMY GOODMAN: Antonia—Antonia—
—on the issue of sanctions. And this question wasn’t just about Russia.
It was also about Iran. It was also about other countries, which
ExxonMobil would like to see the sanctions removed from. And so, the
lobbying disclosure forms say, "We lobbied about a particular bill." It
never says which direction did you argue. So, as is always the case with
ExxonMobil, it will fight. It will fight. It will litigate. It will
litigate. It will litigate. It will litigate. It will run you into the
ground. And I think that’s what he thought he could get away with. But,
of course, there also is a much broader record of what the objectives of
ExxonMobil have been in these areas. So, in Iran, for example, where
ExxonMobil has most certainly lobbied to have sanctions lifted,
ExxonMobil, and Mobil, before it, for decades has led a group called—led
a group called USA Engage, which entire
purpose was to get sanctions lifted, first on Iran. Mobil ran
advertisements in U.S. newspapers encouraging the lifting of Iranian
sanctions. And that’s a position that ExxonMobil has carried on for
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Rex Tillerson—
ANTONIA JUHASZ: —including under Tillerson—
AMY GOODMAN: Antonia, Rex Tillerson—
—working in countries in which there were—there are sanctions. So,
ExxonMobil, under Tillerson, worked with Iran, Sudan, Syria, while the
U.S. had sanctions against those countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Rex Tillerson denied he even knew what USA
Engage was. But during the hearing, he denied—just to go back to him in
his own words—or, to his knowledge, he himself or ExxonMobil lobbied
against imposing sanctions on Russia.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Right. I think, again, that’s—
I never lobbied against the sanctions. To my knowledge, ExxonMobil
never lobbied against the sanctions. ExxonMobil participated in
understanding how the sanctions were going to be constructed, and was
asked and provided information regarding how those might impact American
So, if you could go on, Antonia, from there, his denial that he or
ExxonMobil lobbied around—against sanctions with Russia? And then,
you’re talking about these other countries.
Yeah, so, in Russia—again, I think what he’s trying to get away with
is, "Prove what I said in the room." Yes, we have it documented that Rex
Tillerson met with President Obama on Russia sanctions. That’s
documented. And I think what he was trying to get away with, which he
couldn’t, was, "Well, so, prove what I actually said in the room,"
which, of course, we can’t. We don’t have documentation of that. And
that’s just him, you know, using ExxonMobil, the way he always has,
which is to fight, you know, to the bitter, bitter end. They’re always
referred to as a scorched earth company when you talk to communities and
lawyers who have to go against them. But what we know is that Rex
Tillerson has also said publicly that he doesn’t agree with sanctions.
We also know that in Russia, because of Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil now
has the largest holdings it has anywhere in the world, and these are
five times larger than its second-largest holdings, which are in the
United States. And that’s because Rex Tillerson made deals with Russia
for 10 joint ventures with Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, to gain
these huge holdings in Russia, a large chunk of which are in the
Russian Arctic. And that deal—the deal was finalized in 2003. But then,
in 2014, President Obama put in place sanctions against Russia, and that
means that a large chunk of that oil is now no longer available to
And Rex Tillerson, yes, as of 11 days ago, retired as the CEO
of ExxonMobil. But this is a man who spent literally his entire adult
life at ExxonMobil. He was recruited straight out of UT Austin. He is
working at a company that is referred to by its employees as "Mother
Exxon." I believe he’s deeply, deeply tied to this company. And I
believe that he is not happy about the fact that he left ExxonMobil in
worse shape than when he came on. And one of the biggest deals that he
accomplished as CEO was this huge Russia deal. But Exxon can’t enjoy its Russia deal while the sanctions are in place.
Well, human rights issues were repeatedly raised during Tillerson’s
confirmation hearing Wednesday. In this clip, Senator Marco Rubio
questions Tillerson on the so-called war on drugs in the Philippines.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office last June, the Los Angeles Times
reports that roughly over 6,200 people have been killed in the
Philippines by police and vigilantes in alleged drug raids. In your
view, is this the right way to conduct an anti-drug campaign?
Senator, the U.S.—America and the people of the Philippines have a
long-standing friendship, and I think it’s important that we keep that
in perspective in engaging with the government of the Philippines, that
that long-standing friendship, and they have been an ally, and we need
to ensure that they stay an ally.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO:
That’s correct, Mr. Tillerson, but my question is about the 6,200
people that have been killed in these alleged drug raids. Do you believe
that that is an appropriate way to conduct that operation? Or do you
believe that it is something that’s conducive to human rights violations
that we should be concerned about and condemning?
Senator, if confirmed, again, it’s an area that I’d want to understand
in greater detail in terms of the facts on the ground. I’m not disputing
anything you’re saying, because I know you have access to information
that I do not have.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: This one in the Los Angeles Times.
Well, again, I’m not going to rely on solely what I read in the
newspapers. I will go to the facts on the ground. I’m sure there’s—I’m
sure there’s good credible information available through our various
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Tillerson talking about the so-called war on drugs, in which thousands have been killed. Now, in your piece, Antonia, you talk about Exxon’s role in Aceh, Indonesia. Could you explain what Exxon is being accused of there?
Yeah. Human rights was a big theme throughout the hearing, brought up
by many, many senators. And, you know, as someone who’s spent a—you
know, I’ve written three books about the oil industry. I’ve spent a lot
of time studying ExxonMobil. To hear Rex Tillerson continually talk—and
in that clip he didn’t, but he did mention, you know, the way that
he—the ways that he would uphold human rights—was deeply disturbing, for
one reason being this case that I highlight in my report, which is one
of the more renowned because of the level of abuse, international human
rights cases involving an oil company. And this is a case in which the
complaint is actually now just getting ready to go before the U.S.
District Court in Washington, D.C. They’re awaiting a trial date any day
now. And this involves severe human rights abuses in Indonesia by
security forces employed by ExxonMobil. And the complaint specifically
names Rex Tillerson.
And what the charges are, they involve charges from 2000 to 2004 that
ExxonMobil essentially, in the words of the complaint, privatized the
Indonesian military to act as its own security force for its natural gas
operations there. Aceh was in the midst of an independence movement. It
was a violent and hectic independence movement. And ExxonMobil used a
renowned-for-its-human-rights-abuse-record military to be its private
security force. And in one of the cases, for example, John Doe number
two—and they’re all John Does, because they’re all afraid for their
lives—the person alleges that he was kidnapped by ExxonMobil’s private
security forces. He was held for three months. He was severely tortured.
He was shown a pile of human heads and warned that this is what was
going to happen to him. He was eventually released, and then his home
was burned down. But this is a case that involves charges of murder,
sexual assault, you know, sort of the most horrific things you can
imagine. And the case alleges that the decisions were being made to use
this military force at the highest levels of ExxonMobil, in the
executive level, at the—you know, not just in the subsidiary in
Indonesia, but in corporate headquarters in the United States, and that
the decision—even when it was known by executives that the Indonesian
force was using these extreme human rights abuses, the decision was made
to continue using that force and actually to intensify the use of that
And named in the complaint is Rex Tillerson in his role then as
president of ExxonMobil, as someone who had met with Indonesian
authorities. So this is a case that he, you know, I would imagine, at a
minimum, is certainly aware of, and very important. You know, what
ExxonMobil argues is not that the human rights abuses did not occur, but
rather that it is not liable for them. And ExxonMobil stayed in
Indonesia. You know, the only—the only thing that ended this conflict
was the tsunami at the end of—in December 2004 that essentially wiped
out Aceh. The ExxonMobil facility survived the tsunami. And so,
ExxonMobil never chose to stop operating because of everything that was
going on around it. It stayed. It stayed. It stayed. It stayed. And that
is an example of choices made all around the world, where ExxonMobil
has partnered with and propped up—right now in Angola, in Equatorial
Guinea—worked with, propped up dictators, governments that are
incredibly abusive to their people, so that they could get their oil.
And that has been and continues to be the model that ExxonMobil follows.
AMY GOODMAN: Antonia, we want to thank you for being with us. Antonia Juhasz, oil and energy journalist, author of Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill as well as The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry—and What We Must Do to Stop It. We’ll link to your piece, "Rex Tillerson Could Be America’s Most Dangerous Secretary of State."