Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is ramping up pressure on President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of State to release tax returns, writing Thursday that it will be difficult to schedule a confirmation hearing until “all necessary and relevant information” is submitted.
Cardin requested three years of tax filings from ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, whom Trump named last week as his top diplomat. Tillerson will submit financial disclosure and ethics forms to the committee as part of his confirmation process, but Cardin said the tax returns are important because Tillerson has “never made public disclosures of this type” and “has never been in public service.”
In a letter to fellow Democrats on the committee, Cardin wrote that he and Republican Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee “have a disagreement” about the need to review the tax returns.
“Mr. Tillerson was actively engaged with many foreign governments that could become relevant if confirmed as Secretary of State,” the Maryland Democrat wrote. “The Senate has a responsibility to review all relevant documents during the confirmation process.”
Cardin said Tillerson had “promised to provide such information” in response to a question about his tax returns in a questionnaire he has already submitted to the committee.
Corker responded Thursday by stressing that the committee, based on “long-standing precedent,” had not asked Tillerson to provide copies of his returns.
“Prior to his confirmation hearing, he will go through the same ethics and FBI checks as previous Secretary of State nominees,” Corker said. “That has always been the plan, it is already in progress, and I am deeply disappointed my colleagues continue to imply otherwise.”
Politically, the issue is reminiscent of the presidential campaign this year, in which Democrats pressured Trump to provide his own tax returns. Breaking with decades of tradition, Trump never did.
The move also fits with a broader effort by congressional Democrats to question potential conflict of interests involving Trump’s business empire, and as well possible conflicts faced by his cabinet choices.
Democrats have questioned Tillerson’s interaction with foreign leaders as the head of a global company. Trump has countered those interactions are precisely what makes Tillerson a good choice to negotiate on behalf of the country.
Corker has indicated he wants to schedule a hearing on Tillerson during the second week of January. Cardin said in his letter that it would be “difficult to lock in a nomination hearing time for the committee to consider the nominee” until it received Tillerson’s financial information.
Cardin said he and Corker had spoken several times about the hearing, and he praised his Republican counterpart for reserving a second day for the meeting “so that each member has ample opportunity to ask about issues he or she wishes to raise with the nominee.”