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Gates, Rice pushed Tillerson nomination after firm worked for ExxonMobil

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Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates both played a crucial role in convincing President-elect Donald Trump to pick ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state — and they worked with him at their firm that professionally consulted for Tillerson’s company.

Gates acknowledged Exxon is a client of their consulting firm Rice Hadley Gates, but saluted Tillerson’s experience around the world. Gates and Rice both recommended Tillerson to Trump for the position.

Tillerson was already an out-of-the-box choice to be the nation’s top diplomat, having come from the private sector and to be nominated to a position which traditionally has gone to established government officials or politicians.

Rice and Gates, two top Cabinet officials in the George W. Bush administration, released statements on Tuesday celebrating the selection of Tillerson.

“Rex Tillerson is an excellent choice for Secretary of State. He will bring to the post remarkable and broad international experience; a deep understanding of the global economy; and a belief in America’s special role in the world,” Rice said. “I know Rex as a successful business man and a patriot. He will represent the interests and the values of the United States with resolve and commitment. And he will lead the exceptional men and women of the State Department with respect and dedication.”

Neither Gates nor Rice specifically addressed his ties to Russia, which are expected to be a flashpoint in his confirmation hearings.

“I strongly endorse the President-Elect’s selection of Rex Tillerson to be the next Secretary of State. He would bring to the position vast knowledge, experience and success in dealing with dozens of governments and leaders in every corner of the world,” Gates said. “He is a person of great integrity whose only goal in office would be to protect and advance the interests of the United States.”

Gates and Rice were both quite critical of Trump during the election. Gates at one point said Trump was “beyond repair” and “unfit to be commander-in-chief.” Rice at one point called for Trump to leave the presidential race altogether as Trump became mired in sexual assault allegations.

Other Bush officials praised the choice of Tillerson, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and James A. Baker III, who worked for George W. Bush and his father’s administration. Baker’s firm also has extensive ExxonMobil ties.

“Rex Tillerson, who is a friend of mine, is an excellent choice to head the State Department and has an opportunity to be a very effective Secretary of State,” Baker said. “As CEO of one of the world’s largest and best-run companies, has demonstrated the management and negotiating skills, and has the international experience, that are required in the job.”