Good cop, bad cop for State Depart­ment

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Eli Lake

The win­ners of “Amer­ica’s Next Top Diplo­mat” ap­pear to be in. If re­ports over the week­end are cor­rect, Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump will tap Exxon’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Rex Tiller­son to be his sec­re­tary of state, and a for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, John Bolton, to be Tiller­son’s deputy.

To say that this would rep­re­sent a good cop/bad cop com­bi­na­tion is an un­der­state­ment.

Let’s start with Tiller­son. In 2012, Rus­sian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin pre­sented the oil­man with his coun­try’s “or­der of friend­ship.” As the jour­nal­ist Ju­lia Ioffe re­ported on Fri­day, Tiller­son lob­bied the State Depart­ment against sanc­tions on Rus­sia fol­low­ing its in­va­sion of Ukraine.

Con­trast this with Bolton. When he served as un­der­sec­re­tary of state in Ge­orge W. Bush’s first term, he hung a framed copy in his of­fice of a Tehran news­pa­per de­nounc­ing him as the devil’s spawn. In 2009, he was in­tro­duced at an event by then-Sen. Jesse Helms, who said he was “the kind of man with whom I’d want to stand at Ar­maged­don.”

Be­fore Putin even an­nexed Ukraine, Bolton said the U.S. should be caus­ing him “pain” for his provocations in Syria. In July he said that sanc­tions against Rus­sia to pun­ish the 2014 in­va­sion of Ukraine were too weak.

All of this is im­por­tant in light of re­ports from CIA that Rus­sia not only tried to in­ter­fere in last month’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, but that they did so with the in­ten­tion of aid­ing Trump’s elec­tion. Trump called the re­port “ridicu­lous.” His in­com­ing chief of staff, Reince Priebus, dis­puted the claim in The New York Times that the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee was suc­cess­fully hacked by the Rus­sians.

The U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity dis­agrees on whether Rus­sia in­tended to elect Trump, but there is con­sen­sus that Rus­sia hacked Democrats to in­ter­fere with the elec­tion. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Gra­ham joined with Democrats to call for a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

That’s im­por­tant when it comes to Tiller­son. Se­nate staffers tell me Exxon will have to make sig­nif­i­cant dis­clo­sures on its Rus­sian busi­ness to the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, which is chaired by one of the fi­nal­ists for the po­si­tion, Bob Corker.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., a mem­ber of that com­mit­tee, tweeted Sun­day, “Be­ing a friend of Vladimir is not an at­tribute I am hop­ing for from a #Sec­re­taryofS­tate.” If Ru­bio, McCain, Gra­ham and oth­ers in the GOP op­pose Tiller­son, he will likely lose a nom­i­na­tion fight, con­sid­er­ing how many Democrats are likely to block the Exxon chief on en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist grounds.

This is an irony for Bolton. One of his li­a­bil­i­ties is that he is al­ready op­posed by Ken­tucky Sen. Rand Paul. Democrats would only need to pick off two more Repub­li­cans to sink a Bolton nom­i­na­tion.

But the logic against Bolton also ap­plies to Tiller­son. If the boss of Exxon can­not per­suade Gra­ham, McCain and Ru­bio he will be a bad lieu­tenant when it comes to Rus­sia, Tiller­son may be in trou­ble. Democrats these days are in no mood to help Vladimir Putin’s friends.

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