While touring the Baltic nations, which are coping with national security fears caused by a resurgent Russia, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Thursday voiced concerns over the nomination of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
President-elect Donald Trump has said he will nominate Tillerson to serve as America’s top diplomat. The nomination has been met with concerns from many senators about Tillerson’s existing connections with Russia in general and with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Senate must confirm the appointment.
McCain noted a specific concern over Tillerson’s opposition to sanctions against Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“I and several of my colleagues have concerns about Mr. Tillerson and some of his past activities, specifically his relationship with Vladimir Putin,” McCain told reporters.
He continued, “I have concerns, but at the same time I’m certain we will give Mr. Tillerson an opportunity to make his case about why he is qualified to be secretary of state.”
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it is vital to ensure that Russian hackers do not interfere with America’s political process.
He has supported hearings into the role of Russia in the presidential election. That course seemed to be contrary to the will of Trump, who spoke to reporters Wednesday.
“I think we ought to get on with our lives,” Trump said. “I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole, you know, age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure you have that kind of security that you need. But I have not spoken with the senators, and I certainly will be over a period of time.”
McCain agreed with Trump, on one condition.
“I agree with president-elect that we need to get on of our lives — without having elections being affected by any outside influence, especially Vladimir Putin, who is a thug and a murderer,” he said.
Putin was also the target of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who was traveling with McCain.
Graham said the U.S. needs to put in place sanctions that target areas such as energy and also those that directly hit Putin.
“I think the sanctions need to go beyond what it is today — they need to name Putin as an individual and his inner circle because nothing happens in Russia without his knowledge and approval,” Graham said.
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