WASHINGTON (CN) – President-elect Donald Trump on Monday formally announced retired four-star Marine Gen. John Kelly as his pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security.
Kelly served in the Marines for 40 years, during which time he oversaw the United States Southern Command, which oversees operations in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America. Kelly’s his, Lt. Robert Kelly, died in Afghanistan in 2010.
“Gen. John Kelly’s decades of military service and deep commitment to fighting the threat of terrorism inside our borders makes him the ideal choice to serve as our secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,” Trump said in a statement. “He is the right person to spearhead the urgent mission of stopping illegal immigration and securing our borders, streamlining TSA and improving coordination between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies. With Gen. Kelly at the helm of DHS, the American people will have a leader committed to our safety as well as one who will work hand-in-hand with America’s rank-and-file TSA, ICE and Border Patrol officers.”
Kelly’s reported selection leaked out last week and the official announcement is the first from Trump since the New York Times reported his decision to name Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
Tillerson has been at Exxon since 1975 and his experience with the company has allowed him to develop close ties with Russia as he negotiated deals in the country as recently as 2011. Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship in 2013, a medal the Russian president gives to foreign nationals who worked to better relations with the country.
Under Tillerson’s direction, Exxon negotiated a deal with Russia that allowed the company to drill in the Arctic Ocean just off the country’s coast.
Although he has no government experience, Trump values his history cutting deals in the businesses world, especially his background in international negotiations, the New York Times reported.
Trump has not confirmed the pick, but tweeted on Sunday that whether he chooses him or not, Tillerson is “a world class player and dealmaker.”
His close ties to the Kremlin could be problematic as he works through the Senate confirmation process, especially in light of the Obama administration’s insistence that Russia attempted to sway the 2016 election through a series of hacks and Trump’s refusal to accept this conclusion.
Tillerson reportedly beat out a number of other candidates with government experience, most notably former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former CIA Director David Petraeus. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was once considered a contender for the job but withdrew his name from the running early last month.
Tillerson’s selection has drawn criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, who have especially raised the alarm about his ties to Russia. A Trump appointment would fail if three Republicans ally with Democrats in opposition to a given pick.
Over the weekend Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on Fox News Tillerson’s relationship with Russia is a “matter of concern.”
Sen. Bob Menendez, A New Jersey Democrat who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also blasted the pick in a statement over the weekend.
“Today’s reports that Rex Tillerson could be nominated to be our nation’s top diplomat is alarming and absurd,” Menendez said in a statement. “With Rex Tillerson as our secretary of state, the Trump administration would be guaranteeing Russia has a willing accomplice in the president’s cabinet guiding our nation’s foreign policy.