FEATURED:

Trump picks Exxon CEO Tillerson for secretary of State: report

President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE has selected Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of State, NBC News reported Saturday.

Tillerson, who met with Trump on Saturday at Trump Tower, is expected to be offered the post this weekend, The New York Times reported.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tillerson had reportedly jumped to the front of the pack of candidates in recent days, despite not being mentioned on shortlists as recently as last week.

Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller said in a tweet Saturday afternoon that there would not be an announcement about the State position until at least next week, though he did not refute NBC's report that Tillerson had been selected.

Several other media outlets reported Saturday afternoon that Tillerson was Trump's likely pick to become the nation's next top diplomat.

Critics have already called into question Tillerson’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I don’t know what Mr. Tillerson’s relationship with Vladimir Putin was, but I’ll tell you it is a matter of concern to me,” Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue McConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms MORE (R-Ariz.) said during an interview with Fox News on Saturday.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Tillerson negotiated an energy partnership with Putin in 2011 that the Russian president said could be worth $500 billion.

The following year, Tillerson received the Russian Order of Friendship, one of the highest awards the country bestows upon foreign nationals.

Reuters reported earlier this year that the Exxon Mobil deal with Russia had been put on hold due to sanctions levied against the Kremlin for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. The company has said it intends to resume the deal after sanctions are lifted — a process that Tillerson could help expedite as secretary of State.

Democrats and environmental groups quickly lashed out at the selection of the oil executive Saturday, with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) also going after the businessman's ties to Russia.

“Trump's outrageous pick of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State demonstrates once again that he lied to the country about draining the swamp, and he's turning the government over to the same Wall Street bankers, Washington insiders and special interests he railed against during the campaign," DNC spokesman Adam Hodge said in a statement.

"It’s also another victory for Vladimir Putin, who interfered in our election to help elect Trump and now has a close ally with no foreign policy experience serving as America’s top diplomat."

NBC's Andrea Mitchell said that two sources informed her that Tillerson's selection is planned to be announced sometime next week. She also reported that former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, a neoconservative firebrand, would be tapped to be Tillerson's deputy at State.

The selection of the Putin ally comes just hours after the Washington Post reported that the CIA had assessed that Russia had interfered in the U.S. election in an effort to help Trump get to the White House.

Trump pushed back on the report with an attack on the CIA. An unattributed statement from his transition team said of the agency, "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."

Others who had been considered for the State job included 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, Bolton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Trump in a corner on Saudi Arabia Corker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation MORE (R-Tenn.), retired Gen. David Petraeus and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
 
If the NBC report proves accurate, all eyes will turn to the GOP senators who have taken the most hawkish stances toward Russia, as Democrats will likely only need three Republicans to cross the aisle to block the nomination.

Around the same time as the NBC report, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Memo: Trump in a corner on Saudi Arabia Trump should stick to his guns and close failed South Carolina nuclear MOX project CNN's Smerconish: What do Saudis have over American presidents? MORE (R-S.C.) lashed out at Russia, accusing it of interfering in democracies around the world. It is unclear where Graham stands on Tillerson.

"Don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what Russia is up to — they're trying to undermine democracies all over the world," Graham tweeted.

Don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what Russia is up to -- they're trying to undermine democracies all over the world.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 10, 2016

Russia is trying to break the backs of democracies – and democratic movements – all over the world.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 10, 2016

I'm not challenging the outcome of the election, but very concerned about Russian interference/actions at home & throughout the world.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 10, 2016

The Tillerson report also brought an immediate backlash from the environmental group Greenpeace.

"In this position, Tillerson will try his hardest to silence global initiatives and the right of state attorney generals to hold fossil fuel companies legally accountable for climate change. We will not silenced, and we will not allow this cabinet of billionaires to steamroll the people,” said Cassady Craighill, a spokeswoman for the group.

"If the U.S. Senate has any interest is protecting science, public dissent and the future of the humane race, they should not confirm Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. If climate change denial is going to the default position of the Trump White House, then relentless resistance will be the default position of the American people.”

Updated at 5:50 p.m.