Investigation of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Apparent Presence at ExxonMobil Deal Signing

Secretary Tillerson May Have Violated Ethics Agreement by Appearing at Signing Ceremony During Trip to Saudi Arabia

Washington, DC – Nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight is launching an investigation today into Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s apparent presence at a signing ceremony in Saudi Arabia for a potential joint venture agreement reached between his former employer ExxonMobil and the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC). The agreement pertains to a proposed, jointly owned petrochemical complex to be established in Texas.

At an event during President Trump’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia, representatives from both ExxonMobil and SABIC formalized the agreement, with both the president and Tillerson apparently in attendance, according to photos released by the Saudi Press Agency. In January, Tillerson had submitted a letter to State Department ethics officials pledging to recuse himself from any involvement in matters related to ExxonMobil.

“It is hard to see how Secretary Tillerson’s apparent presence at this deal signing can be squared with his recusal from matters involving ExxonMobil,” said American Oversight Senior Advisor Melanie Sloan. “With the Trump administration it’s always another day, another ethics violation.”

Tillerson’s actions raise serious questions about his role in securing this agreement, including whether he and his staff played a part in finalizing or supporting the deal. In a joint press conference with Tillerson following the signing ceremony, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir specifically referenced the connection between Tillerson and ExxonMobil stating: “ExxonMobil, the secretary’s former company, is the largest single investor in Saudi Arabia.”

To uncover the extent of Tillerson’s involvement, American Oversight submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the State Department seeking the release of any official agency ethics guidance or waivers issued related to Tillerson’s participation in the signing ceremony or any other interactions with ExxonMobil, photos of the event, as well as calendars and scheduling materials related to this trip.

American Oversight is also seeking the release of meeting records and communications between Tillerson and his chief of staff Margaret Peterlin with any ExxonMobil officers or employees since he took office.

Sloan continued, “President Trump has made clear from day one that he views following ethics rules as a fool’s game. Given the abysmal example set at the top, it should be no surprise to anyone when other members of his administration follow his lead.”