Don't hold Putin ties against Trump's secretary of State pick, Senate Foreign Relations chair says

Sen. Corker: Tillerson an 'impressive' individual

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told CNBC on Wednesday that President-elect Donald Trump's choice of secretary of State is no doubt qualified, but lawmakers want to hear where Rex Tillerson stands on Russia and the Mideast.

Corker, who had also been considered by Trump for the top U.S. diplomat job, will lead Tillerson's confirmation hearing next month.

The Tennessee Republican acknowledged on "Squawk Box" that Tillerson's confirmation process will be different than "pro forma" picks of the past, because he comes from the corporate world and does not have a public record on global issues.

Tillerson, Exxon Mobil's chairman and CEO, is a "savvy guy," Corker said. The senator called Tillerson's tenure leading one of America's biggest companies on the world stage "very impressive."

Since this week's announcement, there have been rumblings on Capitol Hill about Tillerson's perceived ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin because he negotiated business deals on behalf of Exxon with Moscow.

Russian President, Vladimir Putin (R) and Rex Tillerson (L), Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil during a signing ceremony for an arctic oil exploration deal between Exxon Mobil and Rosneft on August, 30, 2011 in Sochi, Russia.
Sasha Mordovets | Getty Images

Corker said that should not be a concern. "I don't hold it against someone for having relationships."

But the senator did say the U.S. relationship with Russia remains complex, because Putin has "systematically disestablished Europe" with incursions into Ukraine and has shown heavy-handed tactics in dealing with the crisis in Syria.

Pushing Tillerson on Capitol Hill "won't be burning any of Trump's capital" with lawmakers on possible future deals, Corker said.