When Sen. Marco Rubio questioned Rex Tillerson whether he thought Vladimir Putin was a war criminal, the president-elect’s pick for secretary of state hesitated.
“I would not use that term,” said Tillerson.
The former chief executive of Exxon Mobil has a good relationship with Russia and was awarded the Kremlin’s Order of Friendship in 2013.
Rubio has shown “serious concern” over Tillerson’s nomination and described some of Russia’s war crimes in Syria and even named some of Putin’s political opponents who have been killed.
“Do you believe that Vladimir Putin and his cronies are responsible for ordering the murder of countless dissidents?” Rubio asked.
Tillerson said he didn’t have adequate information to make that conclusion. When Rubio mentioned that Putin’s political opponents “wind up dead all over the world,” he asked if Tillerson thought it was just a coincidence.
“Well, people who speak up for freedom in regimes that are oppressive are often at threat, and these things happen to them,” Tillerson said. “In terms of assigning specific responsibilities, I would have to have more information.”
“None of this is classified, Mr. Tillerson,” Rubio said. “These people are dead.”
Rubio then brought up the many reports that claimed that the Moscow bombings that started the attack in Chechnya was actually done by Russia’s Federal Security Service.
“If you want to know the motivation, here’s what it is,” Rubio said. “Putin’s approval ratings before the attacks against the Chechens was at 31 percent. By mid-August of that year, it was at 78 percent, in just three months.”
“Those are very, very serious charges to make, and I would want to have much more information before reaching a conclusion,” Tillerson said. “There’s a body of record in the public domain, I’m sure there’s a body of record in the classified domain, and I think in order to deal with a serious question like this, I would want to be fully informed before advising the president.”