It is a “fair assumption” that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind US election hacks, secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson has said.
The former CEO of Exxon Mobil told his Senate confirmation hearing the intelligence report on Russian tampering “clearly is troubling”.
His comments came after Senator Marco Rubio pressed Mr Tillerson to admit Mr Putin’s role in the cyber-breach.
Mr Tillerson’s reported good ties with Mr Putin have alarmed some in the US.
In a heated exchange, Mr Rubio, a Florida senator, grilled Mr Tillerson about whether intelligences reports about Russia’s involvement in hacks on the US election were accurate and if Mr Putin had directed the attacks.
Mr Tillerson, 64, said he had no inside information on the detailed intelligence about Russia’s hacking, but he read the declassified US report released last week on the issue.
Mr Rubio suggested that Mr Putin was responsible for war crimes because of Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and bombing of Aleppo.
But the Texan multimillionaire told Mr Rubio he would not describe Mr Putin as a “war criminal”.
The Florida senator – who was one of Mr Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination – said he had “serious concerns” about Mr Tillerson as America’s top diplomat.
The heated exchange continued as Mr Rubio asked Mr Tillerson whether he would label Mr Putin a war criminal.
“I would not use that term,” Mr Tillerson responded.
“Those are very, very serious charges to make and I’d want to have much more information before reaching that conclusion,” he added.