Florida Republican Senator and former presidential candidate Marco Rubio dug into Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson on Wednesday regarding his positions on Russia.
Rubio was not just focused on the hacking of the U.S. election. In addition, he criticized Tillerson for failing to take a hard line on repercussions for Russia with respect to its conduct in Syria.
The Florida Senator began by pushing the former Exxon CEO to acknowledge the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was responsible for the hacks of Democratic Party organizations during the campaign. Tillerson took the surprising position of claiming that it was unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the hacks, though he did acknowledge that it is a “fair assumption” considering the power that Putin has in the Kremlin.
At the same time, he argued that Congress should refrain from passing a law that would mandate sanctions on those who commit cyberattacks on the U.S., arguing that the president should have discretion on whether to use it. “Giving the executive the tool is one thing, requiring the executive to use it without any considerations, I would have concerns about that,” Tillerson said essentially saying that Congress can pass laws, but the President should have discretion as to whether and against who they should be enforced.
Rubio responded negatively saying “What’s troubling about your answer is the implication that if there’s some country we are trying to improve relations with or have significant economic ties to, you may advise the president not to impose sanctions on that country.”
Tillerson also sparred with Rubio on his contention that Putin is a war criminal because of the Kremlin’s role in Syria and his support of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
“Those are very, very serious charges to make, and I would want to have much more information before reaching that conclusion,” Tillerson said. “I am sure there is a body of record in the classified realm. I would want to be fully informed before advising the president.”
The Florida Senator, who seemed prepared for Tillerson’s tempered response on Russia, attacked the former Exxon CEO’s position. “What’s happening in Aleppo is in the public domain, the pictures are there … it should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin’s military has conducted war crimes in Aleppo.” Rubio shot back.
“It is never acceptable, and you would agree, for a military to specifically target civilians, which is what’s happening there with the Russian military. I find it discouraging your inability to cite that, which I think is a globally accepted,” the Senator added.