0147 GMT February 18, 2020
"I am very concerned about someone who took a friendship award from Vladimir Putin, who's a butcher. Actually what Vladimir Putin is, he's a KGB agent. That's all," McCain said on Wednesday evening. "I've had concerns and I've had several conversations with him."
Tillerson’s alleged ties with the Russian leader have become a source of bipartisan concern. His appointment must be approved at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where Republicans hold a 10-to-nine advantage.
If just one Republican member and all Democrats gang up against Tillerson, they could sink his nomination before it even reaches the Senate floor.
Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham have also questioned the ExxonMobil CEO’s close business ties with Russia and Putin.
McCain said that in his conversations with Tillerson, the secretary of state designate has insisted that being a business leader is "very different from that of our secretary of state."
"I have a tendency to believe him. Obviously he's been a great success in business. But I really would like to see more of this issue of what America stands for," McCain said.
According to reports, in a meeting with Trump, Robert Gates, former CIA director and defense secretary, personally recommended Tillerson for the post of secretary of state.
While former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice made the same recommendation during her meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
Both Gates and Rice run a consulting firm that considers ExxonMobil among its clients.
Meanwhile, former US vice president Dick Cheney has been a vocal supporter of the ExxonMobil chief, describing his nomination as an “inspired choice.” The 75-year-old neoconservative politician has lobbied on behalf of Tillerson.