What Trump can learn from Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state pick

Exxon CEO selling stock

By JILL DISIS
Headline Goes Here Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) - If Rex Tillerson can do it, maybe Donald Trump can too.

Trump's pick for secretary of state has a plan to deal with any conflicts of interest if he's confirmed by the senate.

ExxonMobil will cash out its ex-CEO's $181 million retirement package and put it into an independently managed trust that cannot invest in the oil company, the company said Tuesday.

Tillerson, 64, also agreed with the State Department to sell the approximately $54 million worth of Exxon shares he owns.

Ethics experts called the proposal an encouraging sign that could give Trump a road map to resolve potential conflicts posed by his own business interests.

"This is a perfect model from what I see," said John Pudner, a former conservative political consultant who is now the executive director of Take Back Our Republic, an advocacy organization. "We'd really like to see the same kind of thing for the president elect."

Tillerson would be bound by federal conflict of interest rules that prohibit most executive branch officials from holding assets that would clash with their government duties. But those rules don't apply to the office of the president.

Still, Trump's sprawling business interests have raised concerns about whether he could conduct official business without considering how his decisions would affect his personal wealth.

Trump has said he plans to hand over management of the Trump Organization to his children when he takes office, but Pudner and others say that's not enough. They'd rather see Trump put his business enterprises into an independent trust that has no ties to his family. The trust would then sell the assets and reinvest the proceeds.

"If he doesn't do this, it's just going to cast a shadow over every decision the the makes," Pudner said. "And I think it just kind of undercuts the 'drain the swamp' mentality that drew everybody to him."

While Trump's holdings are more complex, Tillerson's plan provides good guidance for Trump, said Larry Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog group.

"It looks like they really attempted to reach an agreement that will take care of a lot of the ethical concerns," Noble said.

The full scope of Tillerson's plan isn't entirely clear yet, Noble added. He stressed that for a trust to be truly blind, Exxon must have no control over the money manager. But Noble is cautiously optimistic. Exxon said Tuesday that the money would be managed "consistent with government ethics rules."

The effort to eliminate conflicts of interest will ultimately cost Tillerson about $7 million in lost compensation, but Noble said that wealthy business people often have to make some sacrifices before entering public service.

"I don't feel sorry for Tillerson; he's still ending up very well off," Noble said. "But it does show that you do have to change your behavior if you do want to go into the government."

--CNNMoney's Chris Isidore and Jethro Mullen contributed to this story.

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