Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) grilled Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s record during his confirmation hearing Wednesday.
“Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?” Rubio asked Tillerson.
Tillerson answered, “I would not use that term.”
“Well, let me describe the situation in Aleppo and perhaps that will help you reach that conclusion,” Rubio replied, noting that Putin has “directed his military to conduct a devastating campaign,” targeting schools, markets and other civilian locations.
Rubio continued to detail Putin’s record, including the use of “battlefield weapons” to kill civilians in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.
“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?” he asked.
“Now, those are very, very serious charges to make and I would want to have much more information before reaching a conclusion,” Tillerson replied. “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 interjected that the information is available in the public domain and “the videos and the pictures are there.”
Tillerson maintained that he wished to be “fully informed before advising the president.”
A visibly annoyed Rubio said that it “should not be hard to say” that Putin is guilty of war crimes in Aleppo: “I find it discouraging, your inability to cite that, which I think is globally accepted.”
He then entered into the record a partial list of Putin’s critics who were murdered or “who died under highly suspicious circumstances.”
Rubio asked Tillerson if “Vladimir Putin and his cronies are responsible for ordering the murder of countless dissidents, journalists and political opponents.”
“I do not have sufficient information to make that claim,” Tillerson replied.
Rubio continued to quiz Tillerson, who maintained that he is “not willing to make conclusions” without more information.
After the exchange with Rubio, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked the nominee whether, if Tillerson confirmed the acts Rubio described took place through intelligence agencies, “you would agree, that those, in fact, would be war crimes, right?”
Tillerson replied, “Yes, sir.”
This post has been updated.