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Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll January 27, 2017

Chuck Schumer wrongly tweets 'Tillerson won't divest from Exxon'

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he won’t vote to confirm Rex Tillerson as secretary of state — in part because Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, won’t divest from his former employer.

"Tillerson won't divest from #Exxon, won't recuse himself, doesn't display values of American foreign policy--I'm voting no," Schumer tweeted Jan. 27, 2017.

That’s incorrect. Tillerson divested from Exxon, where he worked for 40 years, in early January.

An hour later, Schumer tweeted: "Rex Tillerson won’t lift a finger on climate change, won’t rule out a Muslim ban, won’t divest from Exxon, won’t recuse himself. He doesn’t display values of American foreign policy."

To Schumer’s credit, spokesman Matt House acknowledged the mistake and said his staff would correct the tweets. House said the tweets were supposed to just say Tillerson wouldn’t commit to recusing himself from issues that involve Exxon. But that’s also wrong, as we’ll explain.

We still wanted to put Schumer’s claim that "Tillerson won’t divest from Exxon" on the Truth-O-Meter and set the record straight.

Tillerson has agreed to sell his more than 600,000 shares in Exxon, and Exxon drew up an additional agreement with federal ethics regulators.

Tillerson retired from Exxon on Dec. 31 and is entitled to 2 million Exxon shares paid out over 10 years — a package worth more than $170 million as of Jan. 27. However, under the ethics agreement, Exxon will pay out those shares in cash, and they will be put in an independently managed trust that will not be allowed to invest in Exxon.

If Tillerson violates the agreement, he will forfeit the trust, and the money will go to a charity not chosen by Exxon or Tillerson.

Tillerson is also giving up $4.1 million in bonuses, as well as retiree benefits. In order to comply with ethics requirements, Tillerson is ultimately forgoing about $7 million in compensation he would otherwise receive, according to Exxon.

Walter Shaub, director of the Office on Government Ethics, gave Tillerson’s divestment plan a glowing review, calling it a "clean break from Exxon."

"I’m especially proud of the ethics agreement we developed for the intended nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson," Shaub said in remarks delivered at the Brookings Institution on Jan. 11. "Mr. Tillerson is making a clean break from Exxon. He’s also forfeiting bonus payments worth millions. As a result of OGE’s work, he’s now free of financial conflicts of interest. His ethics agreement serves as a sterling model for what we’d like to see with other nominees. He clearly recognizes that public service sometimes comes at a cost."

In contrast, Shaub criticized President Donald Trump’s plan for severing ties with his businesses because it is not a complete divestiture.

In his Brookings remarks, Shaub said he "was glad in November when the president-elect tweeted that he wanted to, as he put it, ‘in no way have a conflict of interest’ with his businesses. Unfortunately, his current plan cannot achieve that goal. It’s easy to see that the current plan does not achieve anything like the clean break Rex Tillerson is making from Exxon."

Regarding Schumer’s claim that Tillerson hasn’t committed to recusing himself from any decisions involving Exxon, federal law requires that Tillerson, if confirmed, stay out of any such decisions for one year. That could pose problems given Exxon’s extensive international business interests.

In his Jan. 11 confirmation hearing, senators asked Tillerson if he would agree to continue recusing himself after that year is up.

"I will honor, obviously, the statutory recusal period and then after that, any matter that might involve ExxonMobil or has the appearance that it could lead to some type of conflict, I will seek the guidance of the Ethics Council," Tillerson said. "A review by them, and if it is the view that it would be proper for me to recuse, I'll honor that."

Our ruling

Schumer said, "Tillerson won't divest from Exxon."

But that’s not even close to the truth. Tillerson retired from Exxon on Dec. 31 and laid out a plan for full divestment in the following week. The director of the Office of Government Ethics called it a "clean break from Exxon."

We rate Schumer’s claim Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

Sen. Chuck Schumer, twitter feed, Jan. 27, 2017

ExxonMobil, "ExxonMobil, Tillerson Reach Agreement to Comply with Conflict of Interest Requirements," Jan. 3, 2017

Office of Government Ethics, remarks of Director Walter Shaub, Jan. 11, 2017

CQ, Tillerson hearing transcript, Jan. 22, 2017

NPR, "Rex Tillerson Cuts Ties With ExxonMobil In Advance Of Confirmation Hearings," Jan. 4, 2017

PolitiFact, "Tillerson could keep financial holdings as secretary of state," Dec. 30, 2016

PolitiFact, "Recap of Rex Tillerson's Senate confirmation hearing for secretary of state," Jan. 12, 2017

Emails, Schumer spokesman Matt House, Jan. 27. 2017

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Lauren Carroll

Chuck Schumer wrongly tweets 'Tillerson won't divest from Exxon'

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