President-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, faces questioning at his confirmation hearing over his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) President-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, faces tough questioning at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday over his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin as both Democrats and Republicans worry about Moscow's increasingly aggressive behavior. The central question facing Tillerson, 64, the former chairman of Exxon Mobil, is how effectively he can transform himself from a Big Oil "dealmaker" to being America's top diplomat with little government experience. In his opening statement, Tillerson said that Russia poses a danger and NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Moscow. He argued, however, that Russia's resurgence happened in the "absence of American leadership" and will call for open and frank dialogue with Moscow. "We must be clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia," Tillerson said. "Russia today poses a danger but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests." "We need an open and frank dialogue with Russia regarding its ambitions, so that we know how to chart our own course," he said. He also emphasized the need to destroy Islamic State, and will criticize China's behavior in the South China Sea and call on Beijing to pressure North Korea. Tillerson's confirmation hearing comes at a time of rising tensions with Russia over its role in the U.S. presidential election and an assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacks of political figures in an effort to help Trump win the Nov. 8 election. Moscow has denied the allegations. Tillerson opposed U.S. sanctions against Russia in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine because he thought they would be ineffective. On Tuesday, 10 senators - five of whom sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that will vet him - introduced legislation to impose even tougher sanctions on Moscow, and promised to grill Tillerson about whether he would back them. One of the senators, Republican John McCain, who has called Putin "a thug and a murderer," was quoted by media as telling reporters last week when asked if he could support Tillerson: "Sure. There's also a realistic scenario that pigs fly." In 2012, Tillerson received the "Order of Friendship" award from Putin. The same year, Exxon deepened its cooperation with Russian oil company Rosneft to expand an oil drilling project in the Arctic after U.S. sanctions over Ukraine were imposed. At the time of the sanctions, Russian oil tsar Igor Sechin told Reuters he would miss three things: exploring U.S. culture, the chance to show his children American landscapes and riding motorbikes with Tillerson.