Secretary Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, will recuse himself from any State Department decisions regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline. The statement came from the embattled top U.S. diplomat through Greenpeace rather than the press.
It began with a harsh letter sent by environmental activists at Greenpeace, demanding that Sec. Tillerson recuse himself from the matter. “When a decision about Keystone, or other oil and gas projects, reaches Rex Tillerson’s desk, he will only see dollar signs for Exxon with no regard for what the people want and the impact on our climate,” they wrote.
During a rare press briefing, State Department spokesman Mark Toner (an Obama administration holdover) was asked about the letter and he revealed the State Department hadn’t yet made a decision about it.
“I wouldn’t want to speak to the contents of the letter until we’ve had a chance to see it, so I’m going to take a pass on that,” Toner said. “We will get a response to you once we’ve had a chance to read the letter and evaluate it,” he added. He also reiterated that the secretary is fully complying with ethics rules and his divestiture is in process, though Toner knows no details about it.
However, late Thursday, Reuters reported that the State Department sent a letter to Greenpeace that Tillerson would recuse himself.
Deputy Legal Advisor Katherine D. McManus wrote:
Secretary Tillerson has committed to full compliance with his ethics obligations and stressed the importance of ethical behavior in his initial speech to Department of State employees. In early February, Secretary Tillerson recused himself from working on issues related to TransCanada’s application for a Presidential Permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. He has not worked on that matter at the Department of State, and will play no role in the deliberations or ultimate resolution of TransCanada’s application.
If Tillerson truly recused himself from the Keystone issue in February, it’s another example of how the embattled secretary has no idea how to manage the press. As we reported, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell was reduced to shouting questions at Tillerson since he hasn’t spoken to the press since being confirmed. Thursday’s briefing was the third since President Trump was inaugurated.
Tillerson has drawn criticism from the press today because he left on an important foreign trip and took no American reporters with him. Toner said that this was because the plane was too small, promising any reporters who follow on their own dime will be accommodated.
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