(CNSNews.com) – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi doubled down Tuesday on her inference that the Russians have some sort of hold over President Trump, charging that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been fired for “standing up for our allies against Russian aggression.”
“President Trump’s actions show that every official in his administration is at the mercy of his personal whims and his worship of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” she said in a statement.
In a letter to supporters, Pelosi said Tillerson was fired “apparently because he was outspoken against Russia.”
“What does Russia have against President Trump personally, professionally, or financially, that Trump refuses to hold them accountable for attacking our democracy?” Pelosi added, repeating an insinuation she has previously made more than once.
When Trump nominated Tillerson as secretary of state in December 2016, the pick drew criticism from some quarters – including Pelosi and the Democratic National Committee – precisely because of worries that he was too friendly towards Russia.
“Choosing an oil executive friendly with Vladimir Putin as secretary of state sends a disturbing signal about President-elect Trump’s priorities,” Pelosi said at the time, calling Tillerson’s “cozy relationship with the Kremlin” alarming.
“The secretary of state should champion American values, American security and American interests,” she said. “Fawning over Putin is poor preparation for being the top diplomat of the United States of America.”
DNC spokesman Adam Hodge called the Tillerson pick “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.”
The Guardian opined that Tillerson’s nomination “confirms Vladimir Putin as one of the strategic victors of the U.S. presidential election.”
Some Republicans were concerned too. “Being a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an attribute I am hoping for from a Secretary of State,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) commented on Twitter.
In his previous capacity as CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson oversaw major cooperation projects with Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company and largest oil producer.
In 2013, Putin awarded him the Order of Friendship, the highest honor the Russian state gives to foreigners.
Pompeo likely to be ‘tougher’ on Russia
Today’s narrative that Trump fired Tillerson over differences on Russia seems at odds with the view held by some Russia experts that the man Trump has named to lead the State Department, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, has historically been firmer on Russia than has Tillerson.
“Pompeo’s views on Russia are actually tougher than Tillerson’s, and he is more aware of the intelligence/covert action threats coming from Russia,” said Ariel Cohen, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center and Eurasia Center.
“While Tillerson paid lip service to criticism of Russia, I expect Pompeo to be much tougher on the Kremlin than his predecessor,” he said.
“Pompeo has a sober view of Russia and has consistently spoken out against Russian aggression,” said Brookings Institution fellow Alina Polyakova.
“He also seems to have the president’s ear and trust in a way that Tillerson did not,” she said. “It’s likely that he will advocate for a strong policy to deter Russia.”
Atlantic Council senior fellow Anders Aslund said that, before taking the helm at the CIA, Pompeo had exhibited a “tougher attitude” towards Russia than had Tillerson, although he added that since joining the administration Pompeo “has made his mark by having a good relationship with Trump and being loyal to him.”
Alexander Vershbow, a former NATO deputy secretary-general and former U.S. ambassador to Russia – now a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council – noted that as CIA head Pompeo acknowledged “Russian interference in the 2016 elections and Russian aggressiveness toward Ukraine.”
Heritage Foundation scholar Nile Gardiner called Pompeo an “excellent choice” for secretary of state, and noted that the nomination comes at a time when Russia “is increasingly threatening U.S. allies in Europe, especially in the Baltic states and Eastern Europe.”
“As secretary of state, Pompeo will play a key role in shaping America’s overall response to Moscow, which will include strengthening sanctions, bolstering of the U.S. military presence in Europe through the NATO alliance, and supporting Ukraine in its war against Russian forces,” Gardiner wrote.
“In addition, he will oversee the U.S. response to the Russian regime’s barbaric use of chemical weapons on British soil – a direct assault on British sovereignty.”