WASHINGTON – Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani formally withdrew from consideration for a post in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration Friday, putting an end to his ill-fated bid to lead the State Department. Trump is now seriously considering Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for the post.
Giuliani’s prospects to serve as secretary of state had already dimmed, in part because of questions about his overseas business ties.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential candidate, is still in the mix.
The deliberations have divided Trump’s senior advisers, with some bluntly warning in public that tapping Romney would anger the president-elect’s loyal supporters. Trump himself has sent mixed messages about Romney in recent days, according to people who have spoken with him, suggesting in some conversations that Romney isn’t getting the job and saying in others that he is still in contention.
The president-elect is said to be intrigued by the prospect of filling the diplomatic post with an international businessman and has told those close to him that he likes the idea of an impressive-looking Cabinet stocked with generals, the business elite and the extremely successful. And while he is said to be enamoured with how Romney looks the part of a statesman, he also likes how Tillerson projects success and gravitas from running a massive global corporation, according to a person not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.
Tillerson has led Exxon since 2006, a period when record high oil prices and record corporate profits helped make it the most valuable public company in the world. He rose to prominence through the company’s Russian energy business and was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship last year.
Giuliani, a loyal Trump supporter throughout the presidential race, quickly emerged as a top contender for secretary of state. But his financial ties, as well as his frequent public campaigning for the job, are said to have given Trump pause. Those close to the president-elect said he had concerns that the 72-year-old Giuliani may lack the stamina and charisma for the high-profile, globe-trotting position.
The former mayor said he removed himself from consideration on Nov. 29.
“The whole thing was becoming kind of very confusing and very difficult for the president-elect,” Giuliani said on Fox News. “My desire to be in the Cabinet was great, but not that great.”
After leaving the government, Giuliani advised foreign political figures and worked for lobbying and security firms whose clients have had complicated relationships with the U.S. government. While not personally involved in lobbying, Giuliani spent years at firms that represented governments and multinational companies. He also made speeches demanding the State Department remove an Iranian opposition group from a U.S. terror blacklist.
In a statement Friday, Trump said Giuliani would have been an “outstanding member of the Cabinet in several roles.” Incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who is seen inside the transition team as favouring Romney, said the former mayor was vetted for possible conflicts and “passed with flying colours.”
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s senior adviser, said Giuliani’s decision to remove himself from consideration was a “mutual decision” with the president-elect. Conway has been an outspoken critic of Romney, publicly warning Trump that his supporters would feel betrayed if he tapped the 2012 Republican nominee for the prominent and powerful Cabinet post.
Romney had blasted Trump as a “fraud” who was playing the American public “for suckers.” But he emerged from a private dinner with Trump last week – their second meeting since the election – full of praise for the president-elect.
Still, Trump moved to expand his pool of contenders following that meeting. He met this week with Tillerson in New York this week and has also had discussions with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Some Trump advisers had hoped Giuliani would be interested in being nominated for Homeland Security secretary, where they believed his financial ties would not be as much of a concern. But Giuliani made clear he was only interested in the diplomatic post.
Friday’s announcement means several of Trump’s most ardent campaign supporters will not be joining his administration. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said he doesn’t plan to have a formal role. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was initially seen as a contender for a few posts, but is expected to be left empty-handed.
Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed reporting.