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Senate Hearing on Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 11, 2017 - 10:30   ET



TILLERSON: I do not have sufficient information to make that claim.

RUBIO: Are you aware that people who oppose Vladimir Putin wind up dead all over the world, poisoned, shot in the back of the head? And do you think that was coincidental or do you think that it is quite possible or likely as I believe, that they were part of an effort to murder his political opponents?

TILLERSON: Well, people who speak up for freedom and regimes that are oppressive are often at threat and these things happen to them. In terms of assigning specific responsibilities, I would have to have more information.

You know, as I indicated I feel it's important that in advising the president if confirmed, that I deal with facts, that I deal with sufficient information which means having access to all information. And I'm sure there's a large body of information I've never seen that's in the classified realm.

I look forward, if confirmed, to becoming fully informed. But I am not willing to make conclusions on what is only publicly available or had been publicly...

RUBIO: None of this is classified, Mr. Tillerson, these people are dead. Political opponents...

TILLERSON: Your question was -- your question was people who were directly responsible for that. I'm not disputing these people are dead.

CORKER: Senator Menendez.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

Mr. Tillerson, congratulations on your nomination. Thank you for coming by to meet with me. And I'd like to take this opportunity to expand upon the conversation we had last week.

Since you've worked in one sector for one company throughout your entire career, getting a sense of your world view is incredibly important since you will be the chief advocate and adviser to the president-elect on those issues. So I'd like to go through a series of questions. I think many of them can be answered by a simple yes or no. Others, will probably take a greater, more extensive answer. So and you've alluded to some of this in your opening statement. So let me go through several of them.

Do you believe it is in the national interest of the United States to continue to support international laws and norms that were established after World War II?

TILLERSON: Yes, sir.

MENENDEZ: Do you believe that the international order includes respecting the territorial integrity of sovereign countries in the in viability of their borders?

TILLERSON: Yes, sir.

MENENDEZ: Did Russia violate this international order when it forcefully annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine?

TILLERSON: Yes, it did.

MENENDEZ: Did Russia's continuing occupation of foreign countries violate international laws and norms?

TILLERSON: I'm not sure which specific countries you're referring to...

MENENDEZ: Well, the annexation of Crimea the...

TILLERSON: Yes, sir.

MENENDEZ: ... eastern Ukraine, Georgia, just to mention a few.

TILLERSON: Yes, sir.

MENENDEZ: Does Russia and Syria's targeted bombing campaign on Aleppo, on hospitals for example, violate this international order?

TILLERSON: Yes, that is not acceptable behavior.

MENENDEZ: Do you believe these actions constitute war crimes?

TILLERSON: Again, Senator, I am not -- don't have sufficient information to make that type of a serious conclusion. Coming to that conclusion is going to require me to have additional specific facts.

MENENDEZ: Do you understand what the standard is for a war?


MENENDEZ: And knowing that standard and knowing what is all within the realm of public information, you cannot say whether those actions constitute a war crime or not?

TILLERSON: I would not want to rely solely upon what has been reported in the public realm. I would want confirmation from agencies who would be able to present me with -- with indisputable facts.


CORKER: Senator Menendez, if -- if I could let me ask...


MENENDEZ: If you won't take my time, Mr. Chairman.

CORKER: No I'm not taking your time, it'll be added back.

If you had sufficient evidence though, in looking at classified information that had taken place, would that not be a war crime?

TILLERSON: Yes, sir.

CORKER: Thank you.

MENENDEZ: For all of these answers that you've given me, does the president-elect agree with you?

TILLERSON: The president-elect and I have not had the opportunity to discuss this specific issue or the specific area.

MENENDEZ: Well, in your statement on page three, you say in his campaign, "President-elect Trump proposed a bold, new commitment to advancing American interests in our foreign policy. I hope to explain what this approach means and how I'd implement this policy if I am confirmed as secretary of State."

So I assume to some degree, that you've had some discussion about what it is that that world view is going to be in order to understand whether you're willing to execute that on behalf of the person you're gonna work for.

TILLERSON: In a broad construct and in terms of the principles that are going to guide that, yes, sir.

MENENDEZ: And I would have thought that Russia would be at the very top of that considering all the actions that have taken place. Is -- did that not happen?

TILLERSON: That has not occurred yet, Senator.

MENENDEZ: That's pretty amazing.

You built a career on ExxonMobil that you said afforded you the opportunity to engage regularly with world leaders, including Vladimir Putin in Russia.


In 2013, he awarded you with the Order of Friendship Award and in our conversations, you told me you had direct and personal access to the Russian president over the course of your tenure there. Then in 2014, ExxonMobil lobbied aggressively against sanctions on Russia after their invasion of Ukraine. Exxon lobbied against the stability and democracy for Ukraine Act, which I introduced in the Senate last year.

You employed well-known Washington-based lobbyists who support these efforts. You personally, visited the White House and reported that you were engaged quote, "At the highest levels of government."

In essence, Exxon became the in-house lobbyist for Russia against these sanctions. Sanctions are one of the most effective diplomatic tools in our arsenal, one we rely on to avoid putting American lives at risk by engaging in traditional kinetic warfare.

Now, today, in response to the previous question by Senator Cardin, you said sanctions are a powerful tool. But you have made statements and given speeches where you have said you do not believe sanctions are a useful tool.

So if sanctions are not a useful tool, have you changed your view? What are the tools of peaceful diplomacy you will use to get countries to return and act within the international order? What are you gonna say to Vladimir Putin when he says to you, but Rex, you said sanctions were bad?

TILLERSON: Senator, I think it's important to acknowledge that when sanctions are imposed, they by their design are going to harm American business. That's the idea, it's to disrupt America's business engagement in whatever country's being targeted for sanctions. And so broadly...

MENENDEZ: I don't think it's to disrupt American business. I think it's to disrupt the economies of those countries. Now, American business may or may not be affected to some degree.

TILLERSON: American business -- if America is going to have an influence on disrupting those economies, then the intent behind the sanctions is to disrupt that country's access to American business, investment, money flows, technology...


MENENDEZ: ... the financial sectors.

TILLERSON: Correct. So -- so by it's -- and I'm only stating a fact, I'm not debating it. But the fact is, sanctions in order to be implemented, do impact American business interests.

In protecting America's interest and I think this is where the president-elect would see the argument, as well, is sanctions are a powerful tool. Let's design them well, let's target them well and then, let's enforce them fully.

And to the extent we can, if we can have other countries join us or if we are designing sanctions in concert, lets ensure those sanctions apply equally everywhere... (CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ: Well, when you -- when you made your remarks and I have a long list you were telling and I'll introduce for the record, you did not differentiate that way. You basically, made the broad case that sanctions are not an effective tool.

Now, I had heard your response now. But in your opening statement, you said that quote, "America must continue to display a commitment to personal liberty, human dignity, principled action in our foreign policy and that we are the only global super power with the means and moral compass capable of shaping the world for good."

I totally agree with you, in that respect. But Mr. Tillerson, our efforts in leading the international community for example, in sanctions against our adversaries like Iran and North Korea, represent exactly that.

Leadership and a moral compass, it's not about disadvantaging American businesses. It's about putting patriotism over profit. Diplomacy is not the same as deal-making. Diplomacy requires getting other countries often to do things they may not always want to do. And there isn't necessarily something to trade for it for.

This is how we were able to build an extensive and effective sanctions network against Iran. Through legislation from Congress and diplomatic pressure from secretaries of State across different administrations, we were able to build the framework of primary and secondary actions that ultimately crippled Iran's economy.

Now, you lobbied against the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act which I was the author of. You reportedly, under ExxonMobil, and I say you, ExxonMobil, but you were the head of ExxonMobil, wanted to eliminate secondary sanctions that would prevent joint ventures.

This makes sense as in 2003 and 2004 and 2005, you were engaged to a subsidiary company in businesses with countries who the United States listed as state sponsors of terrorism including Iran, Syria and the Sudan. Countries that except for the maneuver of your subsidiary, ExxonMobil could not have been dealing with.


MENENDEZ: ExxonMobil is listed as a coalition member of USA Engage, an advocacy group that lobbies against sanctions. This group also lobbied against sanctions, including against Iran, and applauded passage of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

So my question is, with that as a history, with the work that you did in the spring of 2011 where you oversaw an ExxonMobil deal with the Kurdish Regional Government Iraq (ph) after the United States government expressly did not want to see that happen, fearing that a deal would undermine the U.S. policy of one-Iraq and lead the country closer to civil war, what message are you now going to be able to send to American business who are intent on pursuing their own interests at the expense of U.S. policies and potential (ph) for political stability in foreign countries?

How are you going to recalibrate your priorities as secretary of state? Your shareholders are the American people and their security and their interests.

TILLERSON: Well, there was a lot in that question, Senator...

MENENDEZ I'll give you the rest of my time (inaudible).

TILLERSON: ... around which I could respond. First, I have never lobbied against sanctions personally. I continue to believe sanctions...

MENENDEZ: But the company that you directed did.

TILLERSON: To -- to my knowledge, Exxon never directly lobbied against sanctions. Not to my knowledge.

In terms of all the other actions that were mentioned there, they've been done -- they were all undertaken with a great deal of transparency and openness and engagement and input to the process. That's -- that's the beauty of the American process is that others are invited to express their view and inform the process.

But that -- my pivot now, if confirmed to be secretary of state, will have one mission only, and that is to represent the interests of the American people. And as I've stated multiple times, sanctions are an important and powerful tool. But -- but designing poor sanctions and having poor and ineffective sanctions can have a worse effect than having no sanctions at all if they convey a weak response.

So it's important in designing sanctions that, as I've said, that they're carefully crafted, they're carefully targeted with an intended effect and then enforced to the extent American leadership then (ph) can broaden participation in those sanctions. And -- and you're exactly right, the Iran sanctions were extraordinarily effective because others joined in.

CORKER: Thank you.

Senator Menendez has played an incredible role for our nation making sure that sanctions are in place and has done -- has led us all, if you will, relative to Iran.

As my first longer interjection -- let the records say your time ran over to accommodate the interjection I made earlier. It's my understanding -- I think you called me during this time -- that your concern with the sanctions that were in place relative to Iran were not that they were put in place, but that the Europeans had put them in a -- in a way that was different and it actually -- it caused adverse -- an adverse situation for U.S. business relative to European businesses. Is that correct?

TILLERSON: That was with respect to the sanctions for Russia, that's correct.


With that -- and let me just -- on Senator Rubio's questions, I understand how a nominee would wish to -- to be careful how they answer, especially one that plans to do what they say.

In the event with many of those, where he was asking about war crimes, if you were able through your own independent knowledge and working with classified agencies here within the government to determine that the types of activities that he so well articulated took place, you would agree that those in fact would be war crimes?

TILLERSON: Yes, sir.

CORKER: Senator Johnson.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Well, welcome, Mr. Tillerson. I imagine you're having a pretty good time already. I want to pick up a little bit on sanctions, because I've -- I've had my own legitimate concerns about the effectiveness of sanctions and the double-edged sword nature of them.

For example, you -- again, you -- you are pretty well aware of events and the public opinion inside Russia. I mean, I'm concerned that some not well designed sanctions can actually solidify, for example, Vladimir Putin's standing within Russia. I mean, is that -- is that a legitimate concern on sanctions?

TILLERSON: Yes, sir, I think it is.

JOHNSON: In -- in your testimony you -- a couple statements. You said that Russia is not unpredictable, which mean -- you know, another way of saying that Russia's pretty predictable. "Russia does not think like we do." Can you further expand on both of those comments?


PROTESTER: Ryan Tillerson Francis please -- because they don't want to drill and burn the Arctic. That will ruin the climate and destroy the future for our children and grandchildren. Please don't put Exxon in charge of the State Department. Protect our children and grandchildren. Please don't put Exxon in charge of the State Department.

CORKER: If very (ph) -- if you would -- I can easily add time myself, but it would stop the clock when these kinds of interferences take place it would be appreciated.

With that Senator Johnson.

JOHNSON: If you forgot the question, it was -- it was explain your comments that Russia is predictable, basically and that they -- Russia does not think like we do? Expand on that.

TILLERSON: Well, in my experience of both dealing with Russia and representatives of Russian government and Russian entities and then as my -- the link -- the time I've spent in Russia as an observer, my experience with the Russians are that they are very calculating and they're very strategic in their thinking and they develop a plan.

PROTESTER: You have (inaudible) the world's most vulnerable communities as expendable. In our home state of Texas people are resisting dated pipelines. Whether or not you become secretary of State, oil is dead and people will not stop. Senator (inaudible), stop this man. Protect the vulnerable. Senators be brave, reject this man. Protect the vulnerable.

CORKER: (Inaudible) that Mr. Tillerson. Now you can maybe answer the question unimpeded.

TILLERSON: No it's -- I've found the Russians to be very strategic in their thinking. Very tactical and they generally have a very clear plan that they've laid before them.

So in terms of -- when I make the statement they are not unpredictable, if one is able to step back and understand what their long term motivation is and you see that they are going to chart a course -- then it's an understanding of -- of how are they likely to carry that plan out. And, where are all of the elements of that plan that are on the table and in my view the leadership of Russia has a plan.

It is a -- is a geographic plan that is in front of them and they are taking actions to implement that plan. They are judging responses and then they are making the next step in the plan based upon the response and in that regard, they are not unpredictable. If you -- if you -- if Russia does not receive an adequate response to an action, they will execute the next step of the plan.

JOHNSON: So be a little more specific; summarize that plan that you see that they have.

TILLERSON: Well, Russia, more than anything wants to reestablish its role in the global world order. They have a view that following the breakup of the Soviet Union, they were mistreated in some respects in the transition period. They believe they deserve a rightful role in the global world order because they are nuclear power. And their searching is to how to establish that.

And for most of the past 20 plus years since the demise of the Soviet Union, they were not in a position to assert that. They have spent all of these years developing the capability to do that and I think that's now what we are witnessing, is an assertion on their part in order to force a conversation about what is Russia's role in the global world order. And so the steps being taken are simply to make that point that Russia is here, Russia matters and we're a force to be dealt with and that is a fairly predictable course of action they are taking.

I think the important conversation that we have to have with them is -- does Russia want to now and forever be an adversary of the United States? Do you want this to get worse or does Russia desire a different relationship. We're not likely to ever be friends. I think as others have noted our value systems are starkly different. We do not hold the same values.

But I also know the Russian people, because of having spent so many years in Russia. There is scope to define a different relationship that can bring down the temperature around the conflicts we have today. And, these -- and I think as Secretary Gates alluded to and as Secretary Nunn alluded to, both in their opening remarks, dialogue is critical so that these things do not spin out of control.


TILLERSON: We need to move Russia from being an adversary always to a partner at times and on other issues we're going to adversaries. It's not unlike my comments I made on China. At times China is friendly and at times China is an adversary. But with Russia, engagement is necessary in order to define what is that relationship going to be, and then we will know how to chart our own plan of action to respond to that.

JOHNSON: In my mind, if I take a look at the spectrum of -- of our -- America's relationship with different nations, you have friends and allies, you have friendly rivals, you have unfriendly adversaries, you have enemies. And right now, you're basically putting Russia in the unfriendly adversary category.

TILLERSON: Well, unfriendly to enemies. I think at this point, they clearly are in the -- unfriendly adversary category. I hope they do not move to enemy, because that would imply even more conflict with one another.

JOHNSON: But you don't have a whole lot -- much hope that we can move them into the friendly rival category, maybe partners where we have mutual interests.

TILLERSON: Senator, I tend to think of it in three categories. There are friends, there are partners and there are adversaries. And at times, our -- certain are our friends or partners from time to time, so on specific actions.

Our adversaries from time to time can be partners, but on other issues, we're just not going to agree and so we remain adversaries. An adversary at the -- at the ideological level is one thing. And adversary at the conflict level -- direct conflict level, that's very different. JOHNSON: I want to switch subjects a little bit. I agree with former Senator Dunn when he said that your business experience, your private sector background, your relationship with Putin is actually an asset coming to this position. I come from the private. I think that kind of perspective is sorely needed. I -- I don't think we have enough people from the private sector.

I think economic strength is I extricably linked to national strength. Your background traveling the world, I know I asked when we met, I don't know if you ever did the calculation, how many -- how many different countries have you traveled to?

TILLERSON: I've never actually counted them up, I would say over 40 -- somewhere between 40 and 50. I've never actually counted them. JOHNSON: How -- how many countries have you actually done deals with, you know, where you've dealt with top leadership?

TILLERSON: I've -- I've never counted those, but its -- it's certainly, you know, probably in the -- between 10 and 20 where I was directly engaged in a significant way.

JOHNSON: Let me ask you, as somebody from the private sector being asked to serve your nation, understanding you're going to be going through a process like this, understanding all the disclosure, leaving a life behind, that I'm sure you -- you valued.

What was your greatest reservation saying yes?

TILLERSON: Senator, when I went through all of the analysis, all of the reasons I had for saying no, which is your question, were all selfish reason, so I had no reason to say no.

JOHNSON: You obviously had a responsibility as a CEO for ExxonMobil. Could you share your responsibility? Your role is going to change. Do you have any reservation and can you just kind of describe exactly what your mindset is from making that transition?

TILLERSON: Senator, I have no reservations about my clean break with my private sector life. It was a wonderful 41 and-a-half year career. I am extraordinarily proud of it. I learned an awful lot, but now I am moving to a completely different responsibility. My love of country and my patriotism is going to dictate that I serve no one's interest, but that of the American people in advancing our national security.

JOHNSON: As you've traveled the world with the business mindset, working at developing projects around the world, you know, obviously, you are hearing from people around the world. Former president carter in June of 2015 was commenting on president Obama's foreign policy and here's some excerpts of the quotes, he said, "He can't think of many nations in the world where we have a better relationship now than when we did when he took over, President Obama."

The United States' influence and prestige and respect in the world is probably lower now than it was six or seven year ago. Is that your general sense as you traveled around the world during the last eight years of this administration, that our power and influence and prestige and respect is lower, that we have not developed better relationships around the world?

TILLERSON: Well, Senator, I think -- I don't know if I remember if I shared with you in the meeting that we had, but I have shared with others in the meetings, that in many respects I have spent the last 10 years on unintended listening tour as -- as I've traveled about the world, conducting affairs, engaging with the top leaderships, heads of State in many of these countries.


And I have had the opportunity to listen to the express their frustrations, their fears, their concerns as to the withdraw and the stepping back of America's leadership, the lack of that engagement. And they are yearning and they want American leadership reasserted.

And when I met with the president-elect and we were meeting about -- his ultimately asking me to do this, I indicated to him -- I said, "Mr. President, we've got a tough hand of cards that you've been dealt," but I said there's no use in whining about it, there's no use in complaining or pointing fingers at anyone, we're just going to play that hand out because what I know is, America still holds all the aces, we just need to draw them out of that deck and that leaders around the world want our engagement. I said you're gonna be pushing on an open door because people want America to come back.

JOHNSON: One of the reasons I really value the private sector experience is just in your opening statement, the number of times you used reality, clarity, moral leadership, moral clarity, moral lights (ph), facts, use logic, clear priorities, those are the words of business person. That's why I think your perspective will be very welcome in the State Department. Thank you, Mr. Tillerson.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CORKER: Thank you, sir.

Senator Shaheen.

SHAHEEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And thank you, Mr. Tillerson, for being willing to consider the nomination which has been put forward to be secretary of State. I agree with your opening statement that the United States has an important role to play in the world, not just standing up for our interests and values but also for democracy, for press freedom, for human rights, for rule of law.

You were unwilling to agree with Senator Rubio's characterization of Vladimir Putin as a war criminal and you point out in our statement that Russia has disregarded American interests. I would suggest, as I think has been brought out in later testimony, that it not only has disregarded American interests but international norms and humanitarian interests.

The State Department has described Russia as having an authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, Freedom House currently puts Russian in a category of countries like Iran with very restricted political rights ruled by one part or military dictatorships, religious hierarchies or autocrats. Do you agree with that characterization of Russia and Vladimir Putin?

TILLERSON: I would have no reason to take exception.

SHAHEEN: Senator Rubio and Senator Cardin both talked about some of those people who have been victims of the Putin authoritarian regime in Russia and behind me is a poster with a recent New York Times story. I quote, "More of Kremlin's opponents are ending up dead."

I'd like to ask unanimous consent, Mr. Chairman, to enter the article into the record.

CORKER: Without exception -- objection.

SHAHEEN: I think a picture is always worth a thousand words and when you put a face to Sergei Magnitsky, as this poster does, and see two other victims of the authoritarian regime in Russia, I think it speaks to what's happening there and how we should think about the country and dealing with President Putin.

So I understand what Senator Nunn said and -- I mean, former Senator Nunn and Secretary Gates said when they talked about the need to have dialogue with Russia and to continue a mil-to-mil relationship, but I also think it's important for us to understand who we're dealing with. In 2008, you notably said that there's no respect for the rule of law in Russia today. Do you think that continues to be true?

TILLERSON: That is still this (ph) case, yes.

SHAHEEN: So I think you can probably understand, Mr. Tillerson, why some of us are very concerned about the president-elect's statements praising Vladimir Putin's leadership, his intelligence, including after being reminded of his ruthless persecution of political enemies--

[10:59:33] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to break away from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearings for Rex Tillerson to become the next secretary of State. The president-elect of the United States, Donald Trump, getting ready to hold a news conference momentarily, the first news conference in some six months, certainly the first news conference since he was elected president of the United States.

The news conference, Jake, takes on added significance, given all the developments that have happened over the past few days.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. We were originally told -- I think it's been more than 168 days since he had that last press conference, in which, you might remember he invited Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's e-mails but moving along from that he has said that he will introduce the standards by which he will --