By Doina Chiacu and Gina Cherelus
| WASHINGTON/NEW YORK
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK Contenders for President-elect Donald Trump's two top diplomatic roles, Rex Tillerson and John Bolton, will face a tough review in confirmation hearings in a U.S. Senate led by Trump's fellow Republicans, as support grew in Congress on Monday for a full review of possible Russian meddling in America's elections.Russia's alleged actions, coupled with Trump's public admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin and selection of top officials with ties to Moscow, stoked concern in Washington.Lawmakers from both major political parties have raised questions about Tillerson, president and chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) who has close ties with Russia and has met Putin several times, and about Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has voiced hawkish views on Iraq and Iran.Tillerson emerged over the weekend as Trump's expected pick for secretary of state. Bolton has been mentioned as a possible No. 2 State Department official. Trump is due to succeed Democratic President Barack Obama on Jan. 20.Washington and Moscow are at odds over a range of issues that include Syria, Ukraine and NATO's presence in eastern Europe.Tillerson won fresh praise from Moscow, as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Exxon chief "carries out his duties in a highly professional way."In 2013, Putin bestowed a Russian state honour, the Order of Friendship, upon Tillerson, citing his work "strengthening cooperation in the energy sector."Concern in Congress intensified on Monday over U.S. intelligence agency findings that Russia attempted to undermine Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's election prospects by hacking computers of Democratic Party organizations and officials, leading to the publication of private emails.House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said in a statement that any Russian intervention into the U.S. elections is "especially problematic" and expressed support for a House investigation. But he added that any Russian intrusion should not cast doubt on what he said was a "decisive" outcome of the Nov. 8 presidential election won by Trump.Representative Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence panel, called for a joint House-Senate inquiry.
Also on Monday, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned cyber attacks by foreign entities and said, "The Russians are not our friends."In New York, former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who reportedly is under consideration to be Trump's director of national intelligence, met with the president-elect.The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive told reporters after the meeting, "We talked about hacking, whether it’s Chinese hacking or purported Russian hacking." In television interviews, Trump's senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said Tillerson is a "leading candidate" for the top diplomat job and a decision may come this week. During a news conference, McConnell said he was optimistic Trump's nominees would be confirmed by the Senate, but he declined to comment on any future nominees such as Tillerson.McConnell called all of Trump's choices so far "pretty impressive."
Senator Charles Schumer, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, told CBS "This Morning" that "The bottom line is, every one of these nominees, particularly a guy like Tillerson, needs a thorough, thorough hearing.""Talks about his closeness with Putin will come forward," Schumer said.During Trump's presidential campaign, Democrats and longtime government officials voiced alarm when Trump repeatedly praised Putin, suggesting they would "get along very well."On Sunday, Senator John McCain, a Republican who lost the 2008 presidential race to Obama, said of Tillerson: "It’s a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin and obviously they’ve done enormous deals together. That would colour his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat."
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, added that Tillerson would get a fair confirmation hearing.CONCERNS ABOUT BOLTON
Bolton also has raised bipartisan concern. On Sunday, Republican Senator Rand Paul said he would work to stop Bolton from being confirmed to any Trump administration post."His worldview is naive," Paul said on ABC’s “This Week.” "He still believes in regime change. He's still a big cheerleader for the Iraq war. He's promoted a nuclear attack by Israel on Iran. He wants to do regime change in Iran."In 2005, then-President George W. Bush installed Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in a temporary, "recess appointment" that sidestepped U.S. Senate confirmation. He took that step after Democrats used procedural rules in place at the time to block the nomination.Bolton left the job at the end of 2006 when the temporary appointment was ending.Since then, Senate rules have changed, making it harder for a minority of senators to stop judicial and executive branch nominations. Republicans will hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate session that begins on Jan. 3. (Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Howard Goller and Jonathan Oatis)
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Updated Date: Dec 13, 2016 01:17:14 IST