Tillerson and Rubio spar over ‘resurgent Russia’ and scope of Moscow threat

Rex Tillerson (C) at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state, in Washington, January 11, 2017.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
Rex Tillerson (C) at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state, in Washington, January 11, 2017.

Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson said Wednesday it is a “fair assumption” that Russian President Vladimir Putin knew about Moscow’s alleged campaign to disrupt the U.S. election.

The former Exxon Mobil CEO initially said he was not in a position to make that determination after being questioned by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

But Rubio pressed him, saying, “Mr. Tillerson, you’ve engaged in significant business activities in Russia, so I’m sure you’re aware that very few things of a major proportion happen in that country without Vladimir Putin’s permission.”

“I think that’s a fair assumption” that he would have known about the campaign, Tillerson responded.

In a prepared statement, Tillerson said the United States must be “clear-eyed” about its relationship with Russia, which today poses a danger.

Tillerson added, that to his knowledge, Exxon Mobil never lobbied against sanctions on Russia.

“It has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war. Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia,” Tillerson said in prepared statements.

Tillerson said the absence of American leadership had opened the door to this behavior and sent unintentional signals.

President-elect Donald Trump has faced criticism over flattering remarks he has made about Russia and President Vladimir Putin, and for his denial until recently that Russia was behind cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and other U.S. targets.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded the Russian state acted to disrupt the U.S. democratic process during the 2016 election, in part to damage Democrat Hillary Clinton‘s chances of being elected.

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