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Former Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. Rex W. Tillerson
Former Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. Rex W. Tillerson

Backed by a legal team from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, U.S. Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson laid out his answer this week to critics who claimed his financial ties to Exxon Mobil Corp. would create untenable conflicts of interest if he’s confirmed.

Tillerson, whose confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate is scheduled to start Jan. 11, submitted a nine-page letter on Monday to the State Department’s designated ethics official. In it, Tillerson, the former CEO and chairman of Exxon Mobil, outlined his plans to shed any perceived potential conflicts of interest should he win the job as the nation’s top diplomat.

Tillerson has received counsel in the matter from lawyers at Wilmer, according to a source with knowledge. Firm lawyers either declined to comment or did not return calls to their office for this article. Based on the letter’s contents, one veteran ethics lawyer offered Tillerson a stamp of approval.

“As far as conflicts with Exxon are concerned, Tillerson is [as] clean as a whistle,” concluded Edwin Williamson, of counsel at Sullivan & Cromwell in Washington, D.C., and who previously served as a legal adviser to the State Department.

If confirmed, Tillerson reported that he plans to surrender rights to some $3.9 million in previously earned bonuses. He has also agreed to liquidate his stock holdings in Exxon, placing the proceeds of roughly $185 million in a trust that he will not personally control. Tillerson also agreed to a self-imposed ban from ever returning to the oil and gas industry.

Also on Jan. 3, Exxon filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission a notification to shareholders, known as an 8-K, detailing Tillerson’s departure agreement.

According to Exxon’s SEC filing, if he does return to the industry, he will forfeit the cash value from the stock shares that would have been paid to that trust. Instead, the money would be paid to charities of a designated trustee’s choosing.The oil and gas sphere is not the only domain where Tillerson has promised to cut ties. According to his letter he will relinquish roles he has with the Ford’s Theatre Society, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Boy Scouts of America. He has already resigned from his positions with the Business Roundtable and American Petroleum Institute.

An aide to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has scheduled the hearings for Tillerson, said the nominee is expected to be the only person to testify.

Will there be a lawyer sitting beside Tillerson at the hearing and, if so, who will he or she be?

“This question should be directed to the [Trump] transition,” the Senate committee aide said.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Wilmer also had a role advising Trump’s son-in-law, real estate developer Jared Kushner, on his potential business conflicts.

Contact Miriam Rozen at mrozen@alm.com. On Twitter: @MiriamRozen.

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