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Trump tells anxious tech leaders: 'We're here to help'

NEW YORK — President-elect Donald Trump, who faced fierce opposition from some Silicon Valley leaders during the election campaign, strove to assure the titans of tech on Wednesday that his administration is "here to help you folks do well."

Trump, still savoring his election victory, convened a summit at Trump Tower for nearly a dozen tech leaders, whose industry largely supported Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Many in the industry are worried that Trump will stifle innovation, curb the hiring of computer-savvy immigrants and infringe on consumers' digital privacy.

He immediately tried to allay those fears.

"We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. Anything we can do to help this go on, we will be there for you," Trump said. "You'll call my people, you'll call me. We have no formal chain of command around here."

The CEOs who filled the table in Trump's 25th floor conference room included Apple's Tim Cook, Alphabet's Larry Page, Google's Eric Schmidt, Microsoft's Satya Nadella, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Tesla's Elon Musk, IBM's Ginni Rometty, Oracle's Safra Catz and Cisco Systems' Chuck Robbins. Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, attended instead of its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, who is one of many tech executives who have expressed misgivings about Trump's pledge to deport millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Reporters were allowed to witness only the first moments of the meeting. Bezos, who is also owner of The Washington Post, which has been a frequent target of Trump complaints about campaign coverage, said he was "super excited about the possibility of innovation," a comment echoed by several other attendees.

No industry was more open in its contempt for Trump during the campaign. In an open letter published in July, more than 140 technology executives, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists skewered him as a "disaster for innovation."

And Trump's denigration of Mexicans, his pledge to deport millions of immigrants now living in the U.S. illegally and his crude remarks about women were widely viewed as racist, authoritarian and sexist by an industry that prides itself on its tolerance.

Trump, in turn, sometimes lashed out at the industry and its leaders, and — despite his reassurances Wednesday — questions remain about how he'll govern.

He has lambasted Bezos for the Post's campaign coverage and has suggested that Amazon could face antitrust scrutiny after his election. Trump also rebuked Cook for fighting a government order requiring Apple to unlock an encrypted iPhone used by a shooter in last year's terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California.

And Trump's repeated negative comments about immigrants raised fears that he might dismantle programs that have enabled tech companies to hire tens of thousands of foreign workers with the skills to write computer programs, design web pages and build mobile apps.

The industry is also worried that Trump might try to undermine "net neutrality," a regulation requiring internet service providers to offer equal access to all online services. Trump's harsh characterization of the media as dishonest and unfair has raised other fears that he might try to restrict free speech online.

Some in Silicon Valley think the industry's best move would be to keep its distance until Trump changes his tone. Former Google executive Chris Sacca, now a tech investor, argues that industry leaders should have steered clear of the meeting altogether.

Sitting down with the president-elect "would only make sense after Trump has given public assurances he won't encourage censorship, will stop exploiting fake news, will promote net neutrality, denounce hate crimes and embrace science," Sacca said. "If and until then, tech figures who visit are being used to whitewash an authoritarian bully who threatens not just our industry but our entire democracy."

Separately on Wednesday, Trump officially announced his selection of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as his secretary of energy, leading a department Perry once suggested scrapping.

Perry's close relations with energy executives and his long-time dependence on them for political contributions likely signal an abrupt change of course at the Energy Department. He is expected to welcome the four-state Dakota Access Pipeline — which has become the center of fierce protests — and set an open-door policy for oil industry interests. During a debate in his ill-fated 2012 presidential campaign, Perry tried to recall three federal agencies he wanted to eliminate but couldn't recall the Energy Department, instead just saying "oops."

While Trump remained in his Manhattan skyscraper Wednesday, he was hitting the road Thursday for the latest stop in his "thank you" tour, this time in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The tour, which is designed to salute supporters in states that helped him win the White House, will continue Friday in Orlando, Florida, before wrapping Saturday at a Mobile, Alabama, football stadium which was the site of the biggest rally of his campaign.

Liedtke reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed from Washington

Reach Lemire on Twitter at and Liedtke at

In selecting Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, President-elect Donald Trump is making the same bet he asked voters to make on him: that a track record of business accomplishment will translate into success in government.

Indeed, Trump, the first billionaire businessman to win the White House, is broadly testing that proposition across his administration. He's tapped fast food executive Andy Puzder to lead the Labor Department, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross for Commerce, financier Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary and Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn as his top economic adviser. And early Wednesday, the billionaire businessman confirmed that he'd settled on former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to be the next secretary of energy.

But he's taking perhaps his biggest chance on Tillerson, pulling an executive from the rough-and-tumble world of oil production into the delicate arena of international diplomacy. If confirmed by the Senate — and his deep ties to Russia make that no sure thing — Tillerson will be at the center of discussions over the Syrian civil war, the intractable pursuit of peace in the Middle East, and potential conflicts with China, given Trump's early questioning of longstanding U.S. policy toward Beijing.

To Trump, the deals Tillerson has struck around the world for Exxon, and the relationships he has built doing so, are ample preparation for the challenges he would face as the nation's top diplomat. While Tillerson's ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin are drawing scrutiny on Capitol Hill, Trump has had good things to say about Putin, too, and Tillerson's connection doesn't appear to have given him any pause.

"Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none," Trump said Tuesday.

He's been making a similar case about himself all year as he sought to persuade voters that a real estate mogul and political novice had the skills to serve as president. He spent little time trying to show voters that his skills extended beyond the boardroom. Instead, he argued that experience was plenty.

Of Perry, Trump praised his Energy Department choice in an early morning statement Wednesday from Trump Tower in New York.

"As the governor of Texas, Rick Perry created a business climate that produced millions of new jobs and lower energy prices in his state," he said, "and he will bring that same approach to our entire country as secretary of energy ." Perry called it "a tremendous honor" to be chosen for Trump's evolving Cabinet.

As Trump set about putting his administration together, people close to him say he was quickly drawn to the idea of elite business leaders filling the Cabinet, along with those who have had success in areas outside of politics. He's tapped three retired generals for top jobs: James Mattis to head the Pentagon, John Kelly for the Department of Homeland Security and Michael Flynn as his national security adviser.

While business leaders have served in Cabinet posts under both Republican and Democratic presidents, the scope of private sector influence in Trump's burgeoning team is a stark contrast to modern predecessors. Most of President Barack Obama's Cabinet secretaries had public sector backgrounds, though Interior Secretary Sally Jewell served as CEO of the retail company REI and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is the retired CEO of Procter & Gamble.

Some of Trump's picks have come from a more traditional mold. Among them will be former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has been asked by Trump to lead the Energy Department, according to people with knowledge of the decision. Trump has also selected a handful of congressional lawmakers for other top jobs.

But Trump is said to have been particularly intrigued by the prospect of breaking the mold with his choice for secretary of state, one of the most powerful and prominent positions and one that often goes to a diplomatic veteran.

Tillerson came to his attention several years ago when he beat back a motion supported by the Rockefellers — Exxon's founding family — that would have split the chairman and chief executive position into two different jobs. The president-elect was drawn to Tillerson's confidence and Texas swagger, according to people with knowledge of the decision.

"Rex Tillerson is a very Trumpian-inspired pick because it's somebody who, like Donald Trump, has a career outside of politics, and he's somebody who is accustomed to making big deals and translating that into big impact," said Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump's senior advisers.

But for some longtime foreign policy hands, Tillerson is an uncomfortable fit.

"Rex Tillerson has done a fantastic job for Exxon Mobil shareholders," said Michael McFaul, Obama's former ambassador to Russia. "I am not sure those same skills qualify him to be secretary of state."

A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, Tillerson came to Exxon Mobil Corp. as a production engineer straight out of the University of Texas in 1975 and never left. Groomed for an executive position, he has held posts in the company's central U.S., Yemen and Russia operations.

Early in the company's efforts to gain access to the Russian market, Tillerson cut a deal with state-owned Rosneft. The neglected post-Soviet company didn't have a tremendous amount to offer, but Exxon partnered with it "to be on the same side of the table," Tillerson said, according to "Private Empire," an investigative history of Exxon by Steve Coll.

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