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Continuing Live Coverage of Rex Tillerson's Confirmation Hearing. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2017 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: But new leadership is incomplete without accountability. If accountability does not start with ourselves, we cannot credibly extend it to our friends and our adversaries. We must hold ourselves accountable to upholding the promises we make to others.

In America they can be trusted and good faith is essential to supporting our partners, achieving our goals and assuring our security. We must hold our allies accountable to commitments they make. We cannot look the other way at allies who do not meet their obligations.

This is an injustice not only to us, but to long standing friends who honor their promising and bolster our own national security such as Israel and we must hold those who are not our friends accountable to the agreements they make. Our failure to do this over the recent decades has diminished our standing and encouraged bad actors around the world to break their word.

We cannot afford to ignore violations of international accords as we have done with Iran. We cannot continue to accept empty promises, like the ones China has made to pressure North Korea to reform only to shy away from enforcement.

Looking the other way when trust is broken only encourages more bad behavior and it must end. We cannot be accountable thought if we are not truthful and honest in our dealings. As you are aware my long standing involvement with the Boy Scouts of America. One of our bedrock ideals is honesty. Indeed the phrase "on my honor" begins the Boy Scout oath and it must undergird our foreign policy.

In particular we need to be honest about radical Islam. It is with good reason that our fellow citizens have a growing concern about radical Islam and the murderous acts committed in its name against Americans and our friends.

Radical Islam poses a great risk to the stability of nations and the well being of their citizens. Powerful digital media platforms now allow ISIS, Al Qaida, and other terror groups to spread poisonous ideology that runs completely counter to the values of the American people and all people around the world who value human life.

These groups are often enabled and emboldened by nations, organizations, and individuals sympathetic to their cause. These actors must face consequences for aiding and abetting what can only be called evil. The most urgent step in thwarting radical Islam is defeating ISIS.

The Middle East and its surrounding regions pose many challenges which require our attention including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. There are competed priorities in this region which must be and will be addressed but they must not distract from our utmost mission of defeating ISIS. Because when everything is a priority, nothing is priority. Defeating ISIS must be our foremost priority in the Middle East. Eliminating ISIS will be our first step in disrupting the capabilities of other groups and individuals committed to striking our homeland and our allies.

The demise of ISIS will also allow us to increase our attention on other agents of radical Islam like Al Qaida, the Muslim brotherhood and certain elements within Iran. But defeat will not occur on the battlefield alone. We must win the war of ideas.

If confirmed I will ensure the State Department does its part in supporting Muslims around the world who reject radical Islam in all its forms. We should also acknowledge the realities about China. China's island building in the South China Sea is an illegal taking of disputed areas without regard for international norms.

China's economic and trade practices have not always followed its commitments to global agreements. It steals our intellectual property and is aggressive in expansionists in the digital realm. It has not been a reliable partner in using its full influence to curve North Korea. China has proven a willingness to act with abandon in the pursuit of its own goals, which at times has put it at conflict with American interest. We have to deal with what we see, not what we hope.

But we need to see the positive dimensions in our relationship with China as well. The economic wellbeing of our two nations is deeply intertwined. China has been a valuable ally in curtailing certain elements of radical Islam. We should not let disagreements over other issues exclude areas for productive partnership.

TILLERSON: We must also 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 the Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea. And supported Syrian forces that brutally violates the laws of war.


Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at resurgent Russia.

But it was in the absence of American leadership that this door was left open and unintended signals were sent. We backtracked on commitments we made to allies, we sent weak or mixed signals with red lines that turned into green lights. We did not recognize that Russia did not -- does not think like we do.

Words alone do now sweep away an uneven and at times contentious history between our two nations. But we need an open and frank dialog with Russia regarding its ambitions so we know how to chart our own course.

For a cooperation with Russia based on common interest as possible, such as reducing the global threat of terrorism, we ought to explore these options. Where important differences remain, we should be steadfast in defending the interest of America and her allies. Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies and that Russia must be held to account for its actions.

Our approach to human rights begins by acknowledging that American leadership requires moral clarity. We do not face an either or choice on defending global human rights. Our values or our interest when it comes to human rights and humanitarian assistance.

It is unreasonable to expect that every foreign policy endeavor will be driven by human rights considerations alone, especially when the security of the American people is at stake. But our leadership demands actions specifically focused on improving the conditions of people the world over; utilizing both aid and where appropriate economic sanctions as instruments of foreign policy.

And we must adhere to standards of accountability. Our recent engagements with the government of Cuba was not accompanied by any significant concessions on human rights. We have not held them accountable for their conduct. Their leaders received much while their people received little. That serves neither the interests of Cubans or Americans.

Abraham Lincoln declared that America is the last best hope of Earth. Our moral light must not go out if we are to remain an agent of freedom for mankind. Supporting human rights in our foreign policy is a key component of clarifying to a watching world what America stands for.

In closing, let us also be proud about the ideals that define us and the liberties we have secured at great cost. The ingenuity, ideas and culture of Americans who came before us made the United States the greatest nation in history; so have their sacrifices.

We should never forget that we stand on the shoulders of those who have sacrificed much, and in some cases everything. They include our fallen heroes in uniform, our foreign service officers and other Americans in the field who likewise gave all for their country.

If confirmed, in my work for the president and the American people, I will seek to engender trust with foreign leaders and governments and put in place agreements that will serve the purposes and interests of American foreign policy. The secretary of State works for the president and seeks to implement his foreign policy objectives.

To do that, I must work closely with my cabinet colleagues and all relevant departments and agencies of the administration to build consensus. But let me also stress that keeping the president's trust means keeping the public trust. And keeping the public trust means keeping faith with their elected representatives. I want all the members of this committee to know that, should I be confirmed, I will listen to your concerns and those of your staff and partner together to achieve great things for the country we all love.

I'm an engineer by training; I seek to understand the facts, follow where they lead and apply logic to all international affairs. We must see the world for what it is, have clear priorities and understand that our power is considerable, but it is not infinite. We must, where possible, build pathways to new partnerships and strengthen old bonds which have frayed.

If confirmed, I intend to conduct a foreign policy consistent with these ideals. We will never apologize for who we are or what we hold dear. We will see the world for what it is, be honest with ourselves and the American people, follow facts where they lead us and hold ourselves and others accountable.

I thank you for your time and look forward to your questions.

CORKER: Thank you very much for your testimony.

Do you commit to appear and testify upon requests from this committee?


TILLERSON: Yes, sir.

CORKER: With that I'm gonna -- I know the committee members know I rarely give opening statements, certainly not expansive ones like I gave. In order to move this along, I'm going to reserve my time for interjections and move to the ranking member, Senator Cardin, and then we'll move to Senator Rubio.

CARDIN: Once again Mr. Tillerson thank you very much.

Do you agree with me that creating a stable democratic free societies around the world that support the aspirations of their people including basic human rights, is in our long-term national security interest?

TILLERSON: Without question, Senator.

CARDIN: And do you also agree that Russia, under Mr. Putin's leadership, fails in that category?


CARDIN: So what we try to do in order to provide national -- international leadership is to put a face on an issue. Thousands of people in Russia have been harmed or killed as a result of Mr. Putin's leadership and millions have been impacted by that.

There's one person who lost his life in a courageous way, Sergei Magnitsky. A young attorney representing a client with U.S. interests, found corruption, did what any lawyer is supposed to do, reported it to the authorities. As a result he was arrested, tortured and killed. And those who benefited from the corruption were held with no accountability what so ever. Through U.S. leadership, we brought that case to the international forum. The Congress has passed a law, the Magnitsky law. Other countries have now passed similar laws to deny our banking system and the right to visit our country to those who perpetrated those gross violations of human rights that were not held accountable by Russia.

Do you support that law?

TILLERSON: Yes sir, I do.

CARDIN: I thank you for that, because under the Obama administration, there have been 39 individuals who have been individually sanctioned under the Magnitsky law and five more were just recently added on Monday. That law provides for Congress to be able to submit through appropriate channels, additional names to be reviewed by the administration for inclusion for sanctions.

Do you commit that you will follow that provision on law -- on names that we submit to you for potential sanctions for human rights violations under the Magnitsky law?

TILLERSON: Senator, I will ensure that the -- that if confirmed myself and the State Department does comply with that law.

CARDIN: And this year under the National Defense Authorization Act, that was extended globally and now applies to human rights violations in -- throughout the world.

Do you also commit to support the global Magnitsky law, using the tools of our visa restrictions to prevent human rights violators from coming to America?

TILLERSON: Senator, again consistent with all applicable laws that might impact immigration, we'll endeavor to comply with that, yes.

CARDIN: Well, the laws allowed secretary of State to -- visas are privileges that come to America. There is no due process issue on issuing of visas. This is a privilege to be able to come to a country. So we have -- there is no -- I'm not aware of any restrictions on your ability to withdraw the right of someone to come to America. There may be -- other than through treaties that we have diplomats that have to come in -- which is exempted from that provision.

TILLERSON: I understand Senator and that's what I intended is that I think I would ensure that a full examination was made of any and all applicable laws or other policies, but then we would follow those and implement.

CARDIN: You mention in your statement about the invasion by Russia of Crimea. Does Russia have a -- in your view, a legal claim to Crimea?

TILLERSON: No sir, that was a taking of territory that was not theirs.

CARDIN: And do you agree that Russia has not complied with the Minsk agreement in regards to the resolution of Ukraine? TILLERSON: The process for implementing the Minsk Agreement, as I understand it, it continues and no full completion of all of the Minsk Accords has not been achieved.

CARDIN: So I want to get your view on the sanctions that the United States applied and maybe I'll drill down if I might by asking this first question.

You stated in your statement that part of the reasons why Russia -- or we were ineffective in preventing Russia is that we didn't exercise strong enough international leadership. What would you have done or recommended to have been done to prevent Russia from doing what it did?


TILLERSON: Well, Senator, in terms of the taking of Crimea, I think -- my understanding is, is that that caught a lot of people by surprise. It certainly caught me by surprise, just as a private citizen.

So I think the real question was the response to taking of Crimea that then led to subsequent actions by Russia, which I mentioned. The next action being coming across the border of eastern Ukraine with both military assets and men. That was the next illegal action. I think the absence of a very firm and forceful response to the taking of Crimea was judged by the leadership in Russia as a weak response and therefore...

CARDIN: So -- so what would you have done after we were surprised by what they did in taking over Crimea, what should the U.S. leadership have done in response to that, that we didn't do?

TILLERSON: I would have recommended that the Ukraine take all of its military assets it had available, put them on that eastern border, provide those assets with defensive weapons that are necessary just to defend themselves, announce that the U.S. is going to provide them intelligence and that either NATO or U.S. will provide air surveillance over the border to monitor any movements.

CARDIN: So your recommendation would have been to do a more robust supply of military?

TILLERSON: Yes sir. What -- I think what Russian leadership would have understand -- would have understood is a powerful response that indicated, yes, you took the Crimea, but this stops right here.

CARDIN: So as to understand, our NATO partners, particularly in the Baltics and Poland, are very concerned about Russian aggression. NATO has deployed troops in order to show Russia that Article V means something. I take it you support that type of action?

TILLERSON: Yes, I do. That -- that is the type of response that Russia expects. If Russia acts with force, taking of Crimea was an act of force. They didn't -- they didn't just volunteer themselves. So they required a proportional act -- a proportional show of force to indicate to Russia there will be no more taking of territory. CARDIN: And that's encouraging to me, to hear you say that. Because

it's not exactly consistent with what Mr. Trump has been saying in regards to Article V commitments under NATO by the United States. So I appreciate your commitment -- or your views on the issue.

So let me get to the response that was done. We imposed -- U.S. led sanctions against Russia as a result of its conduct in Ukraine. We went to Europe and were able to get Europe to act. The United States, in my view, wanted to go even further, but we couldn't get Europe to go beyond what they were willing to do. Do you agree or disagree with that strategy for the United States to lead by showing sanctions as we did?

TILLERSON: Senator, sanctions are an important and powerful tool and they're an importance tool in terms of deterring additional action once -- once actors have acted up, and we want to deter further any action on their part. So, yes, American leadership is -- is often times, if not almost always required to demonstrate that first step.

CARDIN: And as you understand, unless we move and we have to move in a strong position, we are going to be the best; we're going to get the strongest reaction on sanctions from the United States. We saw it that in Iran and I know that some of us mentioned to youth legislation that was followed yesterday. I don't know if we have had a chance yet to respond or not, I might do that for questions for the record.

But we have legislation, I would urge you to look at, that seems consistent with what you are saying here that would provide the administration -- the administration with the tools to show Russia that if you attack us by cyber or you continue to do what you're doing in Ukraine or what you are doing in Georgia, that there's going to be an economic price you're going to pay. I -- I take it you believe that's a powerful tool and one that you would consider applying?

TILLERSON: Senator, I have not had the opportunity to review the legislation. I'm aware it has been introduced. And yes, I think in carrying out -- the State Department carrying out this diplomacy, or its important role in trying to negotiate to a different course of action -- to a different pathway, we need a strong deterrent in our hand.

It's -- it's the old tenet of Teddy Roosevelt, walk softly and carry a big stick. Well, even in diplomacy it is useful to have a stick that's in your hand, so that -- so that whether you use it or not becomes part of that conversation.


CARDIN: I appreciate it.

Let me ask one final question.

I was meeting with Mr. Pruitt yesterday and I asked him about his view of global leadership on climate issues and he said you should ask that question to the secretary of State nominee. So I'm going to ask it to you. And that is, we -- we were in -- we're a part COP21, do you agree that the United States should continue in international leadership on climate change issues with the international community?

TILLERSON: I think it's important that the United States maintain it's seat at the table on the conversations around, how to address threats of climate change, which do require a global response. No one country is going to solve this alone.

CARDIN: Thank you.

CORKER: Thank you.

Senator Rubio.

RUBIO: Welcome, Mr. Tillerson.

Do you believe during the 2016 presidential campaign, Russian intelligence services directed a campaign of active measures involving the hacking of e-mails, the strategic leak of these e-mails, the use of internet trolls and the dissemination of fake news with the goal of denigrating a presidential candidate and also undermining faith in our election process?

TILLERSON: Senator, I have had no unclassified briefings because I've not received my clearance yet. However, I did read the interagency report that was released on January the 6th. That report, clearly, is troubling and indicates that all of the actions you described were undertaken.

RUBIO: Based on your knowledge of Russian leaders and Russian politics, do you believe these activities could have happened without the knowledge and the consent of Vladimir Putin?

TILLERSON: I'm not in a position to be able to make that determination. Again, that's indicated in the report, but I know there's additional classified information that might inform view.

RUBIO: 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.

So I ask based on your views of Russian politics and your experience, is it possible for something like this, involving the United States election, to have happened without Vladimir Putin knowing about it and authorizing it?

TILLERSON: I think that's a fair assumption.

RUBIO: That he would have?


RUBIO: If Congress passed a bill imposing mandatory visa bans and asset freeze sanctions on persons who engage in significant activities undermining the cyber security of public or private infrastructure and Democratic institutions in the United States, would you advise the president to sign it? TILLERSON: I would certainly want to examine all the corners, all four

corners of that.

RUBIO: Well, I just -- those are the four corners. We would sanction people who are involved in cyber attacks against the United States and interfering in our elections.

TILLERSON: The threat of cyber attacks is a broad issue and those are coming from many, many corners of the world. Certainly this most recent manifestation -- and I think the new threat posed, in terms of how Russia has used, this is a tool that introduces even another element of threat. But cyber attacks are occurring from many nations...

RUBIO: So no matter where they come from, if they come from Belgium, if they come from France, I don't -- if someone is conducting cyber attacks against the United States and we pass a law that authorizes the president to sanction them or actually imposes these sanctions as mandatory, would you advise the president sign it?

TILLERSON: I think it is that second element, Senator, that you just described that leaves the executive branch no latitudes or flexibility in dealing with the broad array of cyber threats. I think it is important that those be dealt with on a country by country basis, taking all other elements into consideration the relationship -- so getting the executive the tool is one thing, requiring the executive to use it without any other considerations, I would have concerns about...

RUBIO: So Mr. Tillerson, I understand your testimony. You're saying it was mandatory, you would not be able to advise the president to sign it because you want to have the president have the flexibility to decide which countries to sanction and which ones to not sanction.

TILLERSON: Under which circumstances do you sanction?

RUBIO: In essence, because you want to be able, for example, to take other things into account. Like, for example, the desire to perhaps improve relations with that country and therefore, the president maybe doesn't want to sanction them even though they're attacking us.

TILLERSON: There could be a whole array of important issues that require consideration including trading issues, trade relation issues, mutual agreements around our national security.

So I don't think it's appropriate -- and certainly for me at this time -- to indicate that I would just say that it's a blanket application. I think that is the role of the executive branch, it is the role of the secretary of State and the State Department to assist and inform the president in -- in judgments about how to use what is a clearly powerful tool.

RUBIO: Well, again I mean, what's troubling about your answer is -- is the implication that somehow if there is some country that we're trying to improve relations with or how significant economic ties with, the president -- you may advise the president not to impose sanctions on that country or individuals in that country out of concern that it could dock damage or -- or the rest of our relationship with them on a cyber attack, which is a direct attack on our national security and our electoral process.


So let me ask you, would you advise the president elect to repeal the Obama administration's recent executive orders, regarding cybersecurity and Russian interference in the 2016 elections?

TILLERSON: I think the president-elect has indicated and if confirmed, I would support the -- what's really required is a comprehensive assessment of our cyber threat and cybersecurity policies.

In my view, based on what I've been able to read and have been briefed, we do not have a cybersecurity policy. We do not have a comprehensive strategy around how to deal with what has been a rapidly emerging threat. As I said, we're seeing it manifest itself in ways that we never envisioned.

RUBIO: But, Mr. Tillerson, I understand the cybersecurity plan, we have to have one to protect ourselves and handle cyber attacks against our country. That is separate from the question of whether people that have already conducted attacks should be sanctioned and singled out.

There's an executive order that is now active, that has sanctioned those individuals and my question is, do you believe that executive order should be repealed by the incoming president?

TILLERSON: If confirmed Senator, I would want to examine it and all aspects of it when in consultation, not only with the president, but with other inner-agencies that are going to have input on this as to their views.

RUBIO: Well, again, Mr. Tillerson we if -- all the executive order says is that certain individuals responsible for cyber actions against the United States will be sanctioned and you still need to examine whether that's a good idea or not is that correct?


RUBIO: Okay. Let me ask you this question, is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?

TILLERSON: I would not use that term.

RUBIO: Well, let me describe the situation in Aleppo and perhaps that will help you reach that conclusion.

In Aleppo, Mr. Putin has directed his military to conduct a devastating campaign. He's targeted schools, markets -- not just assisted the Syrians in doing it -- his military has targeted schools and markets and other civilian infrastructure.

It's resulted in the death of thousands of civilians. This is not the first time Mr. Putin is involved in campaigns of this kind. Back when he was just appointed Prime Minister before he was elected and I'm sure you're aware of that period of time, there was a series of bombings and they blamed it on the Chechens and Mr. Putin personally said that he would punish them.

So he ordered the air force to bomb the Chechen capital of Grozny. They used Scud missiles to hit hospitals, the city's main outdoor market packed with shoppers, 137 people died instantly. They used thermobaric and fuel air explosive bombs, these are the bombs that ignite and they burn the air breathed in by people who are hiding in basements. They used cluster munitions.

He used battlefield weapons against civilians and when it was all said and done an estimated 300,000 civilians were killed and the city was completely destroyed.

By the way there's incredible body of reporting, open source and other, that this was all -- all those bombings were part of a black flag operation on the part of the FSB and if you want to know the motivation here's what it is, 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.

So based on all this information and what's publicly in the record about what's happened in Aleppo and the Russian military, you are still not prepared to say that Vladimir Putin and his military have violated the rules of war and have conducted war crimes in Aleppo?

TILLERSON: Those are very, very serious charges to make and I would want to have much more information before reaching a conclusion. I understand there is 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...


RUBIO: Mr. Tillerson, what's (ph) happened in Aleppo is in the public domain, videos and the pictures are there...

TILLERSON: I would want to be (inaudible) fully informed before advising the president.

RUBIO: Well I encourage you, there's so much -- there's so much information about what's happened in Aleppo, leaving the Chechen issue aside. What happened there is clearly documented as well.

There's so much information out there. It should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin's military has conducted war crimes in Aleppo because it is never acceptable, you would agree, for a military to specifically target civilians, which is what's happened there through the Russian military and I find it discouraging your inability to cite that, which I think is globally excepted.

I want to, in my last minute and a half here, move really quickly to an additional question. In fact I want to enter two things into the record, Mr. Chairman without objection.

CORKER: Without objection.

RUBIO: The first is a partial list of political dissidents, journalists and critics of Vladimir Putin who were suspiciously murdered or died under highly suspicious circumstances. The second thing I want to enter into the record is a letter, address to this committee, by Vladimir Kara-Murza who himself was mysteriously poisoned and is an opponent of the Putin regime. I'd like to enter that into the record.

CORKER: Without objection.

RUBIO: Mr. Tillerson, do you believe that Vladimir Putin and his cronies are responsible for ordering the murder of countless dissidents, journalists and political opponents?