(Bloomberg) -- Almost as soon as President-elect Donald Trump nominated Exxon Mobil chief Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, two well-respected veterans of the Republican foreign policy establishment, Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates, stepped forward with praise for the selection.
It turns out Tillerson’s company pays for their consulting firm’s services.
Exxon has contracted with RiceHadleyGates LLC since at least 2011 on issues including Middle East policy, according to Iraq Oil Report, a respected industry publication.
The well-timed endorsements from Gates and Rice gave Trump’s transition team a head start in assuaging Republican concern over Tillerson’s nomination on Capitol Hill, where the Senate must sign off on him amid unease over his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
There were early signs that the praise was working: Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona who was a fierce opponent of Trump during the presidential campaign, said in a statement that the recommendation from Rice and Gates “carries considerable weight.”
Rice, the former national security adviser and secretary of state for President George W. Bush, made no mention of the business connection in a Facebook posting that called Tillerson “an excellent choice” who would bring “remarkable and broad international experience.”
Gates, however, cited the business connection in his statement.
“While ExxonMobil is one of many clients of RiceHadleyGates Consulting, I met Rex years earlier through our mutual involvement in and leadership of the Boy Scouts of America,” he added.
Gates, who was defense secretary to Bush and President Barack Obama, called Tillerson “an excellent choice for secretary of state.”
Rice and Gates founded RiceHadleyGates with Stephen Hadley, who also was a national security adviser to Bush.
The firm, which doesn’t mention consulting for Exxon on its website, says it “works with senior executives of major companies to develop and implement their strategic plans and help companies expand in major emerging markets, including Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas.”
The firm says its projects have included helping companies navigate regulatory issues for expansion into China, Vietnam and India; assisting clients in deciding where to invest in emerging markets; and advising one client on how to “manage the changes to its business brought about by the Arab Awakening.”
In 2013, the Iraq Oil Report website reported that Rice and Hadley had consulted Exxon about Iraq and the broader Middle East since 2011. It couldn’t be learned how much Exxon has paid the firm.
Rice, Gates and their consulting firm didn’t immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment. Hadley, reached by e-mail, declined to offer an immediate comment.