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Trump aide on Tillerson's ties to Russia: Having relationships isn't a bad thing

Trump aide on Tillerson's ties to Russia: Having relationships isn't a bad thing
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Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is "absolutely" qualified to be secretary of State, despite his connections to Russia, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWarren says Republican party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill McConnell says he's 'great admirer' of Liz Cheney but mum on her removal MORE's incoming chief of staff said Sunday. 

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While Reince Priebus wouldn't directly confirm that Trump will pick Tillerson to be the nation's chief diplomat, Priebus called Tillerson one of the most "preeminent business people" in the world. 

"I think he's qualified to be secretary of State, absolutely," Priebus said on NBC. 

Asked by "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd if Tillerson has any qualifications other than "having business deals," Priebus replied: "It's not just business deals, it's an extensive knowledge of our relationships across the globe, and extensive knowledge of international law, and extensive knowledge of how deals are put together in places of the world that are very sensitive, and intergovernmental relationships that are very unique to Rex Tillerson."

Multiple reports Saturday indicated that Trump would pick Tillerson as his secretary of State, but many Democrats and Republicans have criticized his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Priebus shunned those criticisms, saying the U.S. should not shut itself off from countries with which it disagrees.

"It might unnerve people who think that the best route for our country to go is to ignore people and to have an enemies list and adhere to that list. But look, I just don't believe, and neither does the president-elect, that solving the world's biggest problems are best done by ignoring people and having, you know, crummy relationships across the globe. And so we just don't believe that talking to people having relationships is a bad thing," he said. 

"I would venture to guess that Rex Tillerson doesn't agree with that, either, Chuck."

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.