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Live Coverage of Rex Tillerson's Confirmation Hearing. Aired 9- 9:30a ET
Aired January 11, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Entirely possible, I would say, even probable because the intelligence community officials brought forward what they thought was credible, not reports that they had not corroborated.
And let me just make one other point because Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer, has been out there because, one, in this uncorroborated report, it talks about Michael Cohen, Trump's official corporate lawyer, making a trip to the Czech Republic. My reporting suggests that people did try to run that down --
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They did.
TAPPER: -- and they concluded that it was a different Michael Cohen. It was a Michael Cohen with a passport from another country, the same birth year, different birth date. So for Michael Cohen to dispute that he was in the Czech Republic completely confirms and comports with our reporting. And it's one of the reasons why the intelligence chiefs did not get specific with these allegations, and that's why I hope, at the press conference today, people are more general and don't get into the specifics because a lot of that stuff just has not been proven.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But, Jake, you also saw that Trump in his tweets seems to be blaming the U.S. intelligence community for these leaks.
TAPPER: He seems to be blaming a lot of people.
TAPPER: He's talking about fake news, talking about Nazi Germany, talking about the intelligence community. But as Evan points out, there was no complaint from Mr. Trump or the Trump team when it was Russian intelligence leaking information about Hillary Clinton and Democrats and Donna Brazile and the like.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And he's not denying the core of what the reporting is.
PEREZ: Right, exactly.
BROWN: And now, this was presented to him and President Obama last Friday with a classified briefing. But I think the fact that the intelligence community included this two-page synopsis shows that they're taking the allegations, some of them, at least, seriously to a degree.
BROWN: And they felt like it was important to provide that, though their assessment that the Russians hacked, you know, and released this information to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump was completely independent of these allegations.
TAPPER: Exactly. Excellent.
BROWN: I think it's worth pointing out.
PEREZ: And it doesn't take away from the extraordinary nature of this, the idea that an incoming President will be presented with this kind of information before he even takes office and essentially takes office under the cloud of this. It's one way in which we know that this is going to hang over him. We know that this is not going to go away because the intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies are going to keep looking at it.
BROWN: And of course --
BLITZER: All right. I just want to point out that these are live pictures we're showing our viewers from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jake, he is about to gavel this hearing into session.
Rex Tillerson is the nominee to become the next Secretary of State. Corker will have an opening statement. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat, will make a statement as well. In fact, it's beginning right now.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The Foreign Relations Committee will come to order.
We appreciate everybody being here as the Senate carries out one of its most important responsibility, which is to advice -- to give advice and consent to nominees that are put forth by a president. We thank all of you for being here. Obviously, there's a lot of interest in this hearing. We would ask those who, like us, have the privilege of being in this room, we would ask you to respect democracy, respect the right for us to have a hearing, to control yourselves in an appropriate manner, and I'm sure that is gonna be the case. This is the best of America here.
Serving with outstanding members on this committee. As a matter of fact, because of so much happening in the world today and because of the role that this committee has played over the last several years, demand on this committee has grown and -- and with that, I want to welcome new members who I know will play a big role in the future of our country.
Mr. Todd Young, newly elected to the Senate, we welcome you here. This is our first public appearance. We thank you for your interest in our country's future and for being here. Mr. Rob Portman, who also joined the committee. I think he serves on more committees here than anybody in the Senate, but we thank you for your responsible thinking and leadership. I want to thank Jeff Merkley, who I know cares very, very deeply about these issues, for joining this committee, for your principled efforts in so many regards, and I know they will continue here.
And Cory Booker, new star (ph) of the Senate, who I know will play a very vigorous role here and we thank you so much for being here today.
Just to give you a little bit of a sense of what's gonna happen today, we have four very distinguished people, two of whom are colleagues, who will introduce the nominee and then we will move to opening statements. I will give an opening statement, our distinguished ranking member will give an opening statement and then our nominee, Mr. Rex Tillerson, will give his.
CORKER: Each person here will have 10 minutes to ask questions, a little bit more than the norm.
We've coordinated the schedule with the ranking member, but also with Senator Schumer and others, just to ensure that the American people and certainly all of us have the opportunity to ask the kind of questions that people would like to ask.
I would say to members, I know some of us have an art form of being able to ask about 90 questions in time ending about five seconds before the respondent responds. The 10 minutes includes the response and I'm gonna be -- in order to be -- in order to be respectful of everybody's time, which is a little bit unusual here, we're gonna be -- we're gonna hold to that in a very rigid way.
Our plan is that we will go until about one o'clock today if everybody uses their time. We will take a break out of showing mercy to our nominee for about 45 minutes and to many of us up here. And then we'll come back and resume until such a time as we have the vote-a-rama that -- which I think begins around six o'clock this evening.
Again, in order to make sure that all questions are answered, the ranking member and I have agreed that should there be another day necessary, we'll begin a morning -- in the morning at 10 o'clock. Hopefully, with all that will happen today, that will be unnecessary, but our nominee is very aware that that may well occur.
I think all of you know that our business meeting, again, in order to show respect for all of who are here, is moved until tonight when we have the vote-a-rama, at which time will take up the accession -- Montenegro accession to NATO and will take up the -- the resolution relative to Israel. We'll do that off the floor this evening.
So, with that...
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Mr. Chairman, can I just thank you for the accommodations for this hearing? I -- I know you started it at nine o'clock as an accommodation so that we could all have a little bit more time in the morning for asking questions. And I thank you very much for that accommodating a 10-minute round.
The two of -- the chairman and I have worked closely together to make sure that this hearing was the type of hearing that we'd be proud of in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I want to personally thank you for that and welcome our four new members to our committee.
And with that, I'll withhold until (inaudible).
CORKER: Thank you.
This -- this committee has been a -- certainly a beacon of bipartisanship, as was mentioned, sometimes an island of bipartisanship. But I think all of us understand the importance of us being united, especially when we leave the shore's edge. And I know that we will continual (ph) conduct the hearing today in that manner.
With that, we have four very distinguished individuals who would like to introduce the nominee. We thank each of them for being here. I know that they plan to spend about two and a half minutes each. To do so, we welcome you here.
We have the distinguished Senator Cornyn from Texas, the distinguished Senator Cruz from Texas, the distinguished Sam Nunn from Georgia, who we miss but thank him for his service, and the distinguished Secretary Gates who has served eight presidents. I'm actually surprised he's not serving a ninth. But we thank you for being here.
Each of you, if you would please give your comments and then we will move to -- to opening statements. Thank you for being here.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Chairman Corker and Ranking Member Cardin, members of the -- of the committee, I'm proud to be here today with my colleague Senator Cruz to introduce a fellow Texan, Rex Tillerson, as the nominee to be the next secretary of State.
Without a doubt, Rex Tillerson is an inspired choice by President- elect Trump for this critical position. The depth and breadth of his experience as an accomplished and successful business leader and skilled negotiator give him a solid understanding of our current geopolitical and economic challenges, making him uniquely qualified to serve in this important office.
After graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in engineering, Mr. Tillerson joined the Exxon Corporation, eventually moving up the ranks and into overseas assignments in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. In 2006, he assumed command of Exxon Mobile, a tenure during which he displayed exceptional acumen, helping Exxon weather complex geopolitical obstacles to make the company into one of the world's most profitable corporations.
CORNYN: As a lifelong Texan, Rex has been recognized for something you don't ordinarily associate with being a powerful business leader and head of one of the largest corporations in the world.
He's been recognized for his humility and his altruism. One of my constituents recently wrote a piece in the Dallas Morning News talking about serving on a jury with Mr. Tillerson recently.
She noted that on that jury, his natural leadership ability and charisma, helped them deliver justice in a delicate and difficult case of sexual assault. Following the trial, Mr. Tillerson then donated to the local non-profit that helps support and counsel the victim after the trial.
Mr. Tillerson understands how to separate friendships and business. He knows who he works for. My first encounter with Rex is when I was attorney general. I don't know if he remembers this, but we were on opposite sides of a lawsuit.
I was representing in my capacity as attorney general to the state of Texas and we had the temerity to sue ExxonMobil. And lets say, our first encounter was a little awkward, to say the least. But over the years, I've grown to admire and respect Rex and he didn't let our differences get in the way of what we could agree on.
Since then, I've seen him demonstrate an uncanny ability that will serve him and our country well as its chief diplomat. And that is an ability to deftly handle business matters while maintaining and building relationships, a further testament to his integrity and strength of character.
Once he's confirmed, I'm confident that he will be instrumental in shaping American foreign policy as we face a broad array of diplomatic challenges that will define the security and success of our nation for generations.
So thank you Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Cardin, members of the committee, for letting me introduce Rex Tillerson.
CORKER: (OFF-MIKE) for being maybe the first prompt senator I've witnessed here. Thank you so much.
CORNYN: Trying to set the standard, sir.
CORKER: Thank you, sir.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, members of the committee, good morning. It is a privilege to join you this morning and have the opportunity to help introduce my fellow Texan and the secretary of State Designee, Rex Tillerson.
As many of you know, Rex is a Texan, born and raised in Wichita Falls and he's a proud Texas Longhorn, which John and I might think is plenty enough alone to qualify him for secretary of State. But I recognize you all might set a higher bar than that.
The good news is, that is only the beginning of a long substantive list of qualifications, achievements and international relationships that Rex brings to the table. A list that I believe has prepared him to be a strong candidate to lead our State Department, as we face the monumental task of restoring America's influence across the world.
As all of us know, this is no easy task. We live in a dangerous year and a dangerous world. And after the last eight years, we face a circumstance where many of our friends no longer trust us and many of our enemies no longer fear us.
Rex Tillerson is a serious man, who understands the value of perseverance and knows what it takes to accomplish difficult tasks. From an early age, he worked to climb the ranks in Boy Scouts to become an Eagle Scout and started as a production engineer at Exxon in 1975, eventually, climbing his way to the top as CEO of the Fortune 10 Company.
At Exxon, he led one of the world's most respected companies with over 75,000 employees and over $250 billion in revenue. Exxon, a proud Texas Company, does business in 52 countries. And Rex has traveled the globe, negotiating business deals with world leaders, effectively advocating for the interests of his company, shareholders and employees.
The numerous achievements that Rex has earned, they don't come without hard work, dedication and passion for one's mission. This is the work ethic and spirit that America needs in its secretary of State.
That is the attitude that gives me confidence in the opportunity that Rex has to chart a different, better and stronger course for our national security and diplomacy. We need a secretary of State who understands that America is exceptional, who will establish policies upon that foundation of exceptionalism and who will put America's interests first.
Repeatedly, the current administration has used the United Nations to try to circumvent the will of Congress and the American people.
I look forward to a president and secretary of State, who will instead vigorously defend U.S. sovereignty.
I believe that Rex has an incredible opportunity to defend the foreign policy principles upon which President-elect Trump campaigned, to strengthen our friendship and alliances and to defeat our enemies. And I look forward to all of us working with him in the years ahead as we restore American leadership across the globe. Thank you.
CORKER: Thank you, also for those concise comments, much appreciated, thank you both for being here. And should you need to leave to go to other hearings, please feel free to do so.
FMR. SEN. SAM NUNN (D), GEORIGA: (OFF-MIKE)
CORKER: You need to turn your mic on, sir. You've gotta practice, leaving here for a few years.
NUNN: Well, I thank you Gentleman Corker and Senator Cardin and my friend for a long time, Johnny Isakson -- Senator Isakson, members of the committee. I wish I had thought of this clock a long time ago, it would've saved an awful lot of agony for our committee.
So I'm gonna try to cut my statement as short as possible. And I ask the whole statement be put into the record.
CORKER: Without objection, thank you.
NUNN: Mr. Chairman, Rex Tillerson's resume is well-known, so let me just tackle two points that I know have been raised with the committee, as well as with the Senate.
First, Rex Tillerson's knowledge of and experience in Russia. And second, how his work in the private sector prepares him to be our top diplomat and run one of the most important departments in our government.
With respect to Russia, certain facts are clear. Russia's recent, flagrant actions indicate that its national interest sharply differ from America's national interest in important places, most acutely in Ukraine, in Europe and in Syria.
Russia's values differ from America's values, in particularly in our form of government, our commitment to personal freedom, human rights and the rule of law. These fundamental differences are very important and the fact that our interests and values differ, should always inform our policy toward Russia.
But Mr. Chairman, the important facts don't end here. It is also a fact, that Russia today deploys hundreds of nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles that could be fired and hit their targets, around the globe in less time that it will take to have opening statements at the hearing today.
It is also a fact that for both the United States and Russia, the risk of an accidental, unauthorized or mistaken launch of a nuclear ballistic missile is unnecessarily high, particularly in our world of increasing cyber vulnerability. It is also a fact that the United States and Russia, like it or not, are bound together in areas of unavoidable common interests, including the prevention of nuclear and biological terrorism, the prevention of nuclear proliferation, false warnings of nuclear attacks and the hacking of command and control systems or nuclear facilities.
These facts lead me to an inescapable conclusion. It is dangerous for the United States and Russia and for the world to have virtually no dialogue on reducing nuclear risks and very little military to military communication. If this continues and we are guided by zero sum logic on both sides, we and Russia may be rewarded at some point with catastrophe.
This is my judgment, even when we have stark disputes, including strong evidence from our intelligence community that Russia has interfered in U.S. elections, a finding that Congress must fully examine, including its ominous implications for our political process and our security.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, there have been other moments in history where voices in both Washington and Moscow argued that our areas of disagreement were so great, that we should not work on issues even of common interests between our two countries.
For those who are considering this point, I would suggest re-reading President Kennedy's commencement address that American University delivered just months after the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy spoke of the pursuit of peace, as necessary and rational, quoting him at an age where singular nuclear weapon contains almost 10 times the explosive power delivered by all the allied forces in Second World War.
President Kennedy rejected voices saying it is useless to speak of peace until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. Kennedy warned, "Let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which these differences can be resolved."
NUNN: Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, these words remain true today. I know Rex Tillerson pretty well. And I am confident that he is well prepared, to do what is essential for the security of our nation, to hold firm and tough where our national interests and values demand it and to build on our common interests in working with other nations, including Russia on practical concrete steps that will make the American people safer and more secure.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Cardin, and other members of the Committee, I also consider Rex Tillerson's experience and knowledge in business as an asset and as well as his knowledge of Russia.
I think both are assets, not liability. I also consider his business experience very relevant to the world today as an asset. As I look at the world today, every significant international challenge we face has a very important business component. It's true in Ukraine, it's true in the Middle East, it's true in most places. Rex Tillerson knows these crucial regions, he knows the leaders, and he understands the challenges and the risk.
He is also keenly aware of the power of the private sector and the important role it can play in addressing these fundamental issues. Mr. Chairman, in wrapping up, I'm confident that if confirmed to be secretary of State, Rex Tillerson will take off his corporate hat, but he'll use his vast experience to devote 100 percent of his considerable intellect, energy and experience to protecting America's interest in the troubled world we're in.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I urge his confirmation.
CORKER: Thank you so much for being here and participating and your many, many contributions relative to nuclear safety around the world. Secretary Gates.
ROBERT GATES, FMR. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Cardin, distinguished members of the foreign relations committee. It gives me great pleasure to introduce my friend and fellow Eagle Scout, Rex Tillerson as the president-elect's nominee to be the next secretary of State.
I've known Mr. Tillerson for a number of years through our shared experience in leading the Boy Scouts of America. On many of occasions, after a day of meetings, Rex and I would talk, often for hours about international affairs including Russia and Vladimir Putin.
I believe I have a pretty good idea about how he thinks about the world and the challenges we face. The secretary of State has four important roles; advising the president, negotiating with foreign governments and international organizations, representing the United States abroad, and leading the Department of State. Against a backdrop of having known or worked with 12 secretaries of State, I believe Mr. Tillerson is superbly qualified to carry out each of these roles.
He is deeply knowledgeable about the international scene and geopolitics and importantly would be an informed and independent adviser to the president. He would be candid and honest, willing to tell the president straight from the shoulder what he needs to hear. He would bring decades of experience as a tough and successful negotiator with foreign governments to the position. I've heard him speak often to scout groups about American values and I know he would be an eloquent and passionate representative of the United States to the world.
And finally, based on his long experience in leading a major corporation as well as the Boy Scouts, I know he will lead the Department of State with skill and respect for the professionals. Much has been said and written about Mr. Tillerson and Russia. I've spent my entire adult life dealing with the Soviet Union and Russia. I joined CIA over 50 years ago to do my bit in the epic struggle with the Soviet Union.
During that time, I acquired a reputation as something as a hardliner. Just ask a couple of previous secretaries of State. Yet, I knew that we not only had to resist and contain the USSR, we also had to contain the risk of conflict with it. And that meant engaging in dialogue, negotiations, and even reaching agreements limiting strategic nuclear weapons and establishing agreed procedures to prevent confrontations from escalating.
This new administration must thread the needle between pushing back against Vladimir Putin's aggressions, meddling interventionism, ambitions and bullying and at the same time find a way to stop a dangerous downward spiral in our relationship with Russia. I believe Mr. Tillerson is the right person at the right time to help accomplish both of those goals. And so, it is with pride and confidence that I introduce him to you today and encourage his confirmation.
CORKER: We thank you all for being here. You honor us with your presence, we thank you for your contribution. You do not have to leave, but you cannot stay there so...
... we actually hope you will stay somewhere in the premise and participate if you would like.
CORKER: We have some new members to the committee today and I was thinking prior to this hearing that 10 years ago, I came on this committee as a new senator, in many ways to broaden my ability to -- to serve our nation and to serve our state having been mostly a businessperson.
When I came here, the first order of business was to deal with the surge in Iraq. Pretty monumental time. We had an under-resourced effort that was taking place in Iraq and at a time when, really in many ways, the United States had unleashed forces in the region that had not been seen - not unlike taking, in some ways, a big stick and hitting a hornets nest and changing dramatically the dynamic in the region.
And so, we had the choice of whether we surge and try to be successful at what we began or take another course. Afghanistan also had been under-resourced and -- and all of a sudden we began discussing things like nation-building, things that had not been part of our vocabulary for many years.
We had the Arab Spring that took place in 2011. Again, some of which was built off of some of the activities that I mentioned earlier. And we had all kinds of incoherent things that took place; the quick throwing aside of a leader in Egypt that we had known for years, an undertaking in Libya that I still have never understood what the goal was, but left a large vacuum in the region with arms spreading throughout northern Africa and other places.
We had the conflict in Syria that began, if you remember, with us cheering on the people who wanted basic human rights and more of a democracy. And then, we had the red line that our country did not follow -- follow up on. After that, we had the taking of Crimea and the destabilizing of eastern Ukraine, some of which I think was driven by observing U.S. leadership in the world.
We had China redrawing a map that had been around for thousands of years in the South China Sea and claiming islands and properties and building runways and doing things that, again, until that time had not occurred. We've had the whole destabilization of Europe where I think confidence levels in Europe are probably the lowest they've been in our lifetimes. Driven by concerns about, in many cases, what our role is but also the role of Russia and what it's been doing in the region, the role of immigrants that are flowing in, the whole challenging of the European -- the European model.
And then, we've had a campaign, let's face it, that has been somewhat unorthodox, one that has also given concern to our allies in the world and to many around the world as to just where America is going to be. With all of this chaos that has exhibited through multiple administrations and will continue under this for a period of time, we've had chaos where the United States has been withdrawing in its leadership role and to me that's a recipe for further chaos.
So, this is a very important hearing. I've had the -- I had the ability the other day to sit down with General Flynn who's going to be the national security adviser and I spent time with people around him for some time and I know that, rightly so, his focus is also on our country doing well economically.
Every -- every military leader we've had before us and certainly Secretary Gates have told us that if our nation is not strong economically, if we're not doing the things fiscally to keep ourselves strong then our nation will be weak and our leadership around the world will be -- be diminished.
And so I'm thankful that that is the case.
[09:30:00] A lot of people here realize that it's not also -- it's also a -- it's not only important for us to be economically successful, but we understand that autocrats in other places, when they themselves are not successful end up