Sparks flew early in Wednesday’s secretary of state nomination hearing for Rex Tillerson when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio ripped the former ExxonMobil CEO for refusing to say outright that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “war criminal.”
“Is Putin a war criminal?” the Florida Republican asked.
“I would not use that term,” Mr. Tillerson said.
Mr. Rubio, who expressed skepticism when President-elect Donald Trump first named the former oil executive to be secretary of state, was being closely watched at the hearing. His tough line of questioning suggested he still had trouble with both Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson’s approach to relations with Russia.
The exchange grew tense as Mr. Rubio went on to accuse the nominee of denying publicly circulated reports about atrocities tantamount to war crimes carried out by Russian military forces in the Syrian city of Aleppo, as well as Chechnya.
Mr. Tillerson responded that the charges were “very serious” and he “would want to have much more information before reaching that conclusion.”
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“I understand there is a body of record in the public domain,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a body of record, I’m sure there is a body of record in the classified domain, and I think in order to deal with a serious question like that, I would want to be fully informed.”
Mr. Rubio shot back that “there is so much information out there about what’s happening with Aleppo” and “it is never OK to target civilians, which is what happened there through the Russian military.”
The Florida Republican added that Mr. Tillerson’s response was “discouraging.”