Rubio, Tillerson spar over Russia

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Florida Republican Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio, Tillerson spar over Russia Live coverage: Tillerson’s hearing for State Trump confirmations day two: What to watch MORE laid into Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson for failing to take a hard line on repercussions for Russia’s conduct in the Syrian civil war and Russian cyberattacks.

Tillerson resisted Rubio’s contention that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal because of Moscow’s role in Syria and his support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“Those are very, very serious charges to make and I would want to have much more information before reaching that conclusion,” he said. “I am sure there is a body of record in the classified realm. I would want to be fully informed before advising the president.”

A visibly frustrated Rubio dismissed that position.

“What’s happening in Allepo is in the public domain, the pictures are there…it should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin’s military has conducted war crimes in Allepo,” Rubio said.

“It is never acceptable, and you would agree, for a military to specifically target civilians, which is what’s happening there with the Russian military. I find it discouraging your inability to cite that, which I think is globally accepted.”

The exchange came after Rubio had pushed Tillerson to acknowledge the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had been behind the hacks on the Democratic National Committee and other Democratic groups.

While Tillerson said it was unclear whether Putin was behind the hack, he added it is a “fair assumption” considering Putin’s power in the Kremlin.

But Tillerson argued that Congress shouldn’t pass a law that mandates sanctions on those who commit cyberattacks on America, arguing the president should have authority to decide on a “country-by-country basis.”

“Giving the executive the tool is one thing, requiring the executive to use it without any considerations, I would have concerns about that,” Tillerson said, adding that issues like trade or national security may compel a president to decline to sanction a country that committed a cyberattack.

Rubio responded by characterizing that answer as “troubling.”

“What’s troubling about your answer is the implication that if there’s some country we are trying to improve relations with or have significant economic ties to, you may advise the president not to impose sanctions on that country,” he said.