During his Senate confirmation hearing, Donald Trump’s pick as secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said it is a “fair assumption” that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind US election hacks.
The former CEO of Exxon Mobil told the hearing committee the intelligence report on Russian tampering “clearly is troubling”.
Rex Tillerson’s comments came after Senator Marco Rubio pressed him to admit Vladimir Putin’s role in the cyber-breach.
His reported good ties with Vladimir Putin have alarmed some in the United States.
Rex Tillerson, 64, faced tough questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 11.
In a heated exchange, Marco Rubio grilled him on whether intelligence reports about Russia’s involvement in hacks on the US election were accurate and if Vladimir Putin had directed the attacks.
Rex Tillerson said he had no inside information on the detailed intelligence about Russia’s hacking, but he had read the declassified US report released last week on the issue.
The Florida senator suggested that Vladimir Putin was responsible for war crimes because of Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and bombing of Aleppo.
However, the Texan multimillionaire told Marco Rubio he would not describe Vladimir Putin as a war criminal.
Rex Tillerson said: “I would not use that term.”
“Those are very, very serious charges to make and I’d want to have much more information before reaching that conclusion,” he added.
Marco Rubio – who was one of Donald Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination – said he had “serious concerns” about Rex Tillerson as America’s top diplomat.
While Rex Tillerson was grilled by senators in Washington DC, up in New York Donald Trump was rejecting claims that Russian intelligence agencies have compromising information about the president-elect.
In his first news conference in nearly six months on January 11, at Trump Tower, Donald Trump dismissed the allegations against him as “fake news” and “phony stuff” crafted by “sick people”.
Russia has called the allegations “pulp fiction” and a “clear attempt to damage relations”.
In his Senate statement, Rex Tillerson warned that Americans should be “clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia”.
“Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests. It has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war,” he said.
“Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia,” he added.
It is Rex Tillerson’s connections to Russia that have drawn the most flak in recent months.
Rex Tillerson has forged multi-billion-dollar deals with Russia’s state oil company, Rosneft, spoken out against international sanctions imposed on Moscow and in 2013 was awarded an Order of Friendship by the Kremlin.