It didn’t take long for tensions to flare at Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday morning. Senator Marco Rubio asked the executive a series of pointed questions of President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State about Russia’s involvement in the presidential election and about Vladimir Putin’s involvement in human rights violations Syria. “It should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin’s military has conducted war crimes in Aleppo,” Rubio said.
Tillerson responded to the questions, along with others about Putin’s opponents winding up dead, with what’s likely to become a familiar refrain for the executive as more allegations about Russia come to the fore: “I do not have sufficient information to make that claim.”
Tillerson did say, however, that it appeared that Russia did attempt to influence the outcome of the election based on declassified reports, and that he couldn’t rule out Putin’s direct involvement. Tillerson also said that Russia overstepped in Ukraine, and that future military actions would require a “commensurate show of force” to communicate that further aggression would not be tolerated.
As the hearings drew on, other members of the committee continued to question Tillerson on Russia’s role in the world stage in a heated hearing made more so by frequent interruptions from protestors. As Tillerson delivered his opening remarks, an unnamed woman could be heard in the background shouting, “My home was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Rex Tillerson, I reject you.”
Later on, Tillerson was interrupted again. Another women, who appeared to be a climate change protestor, yelled, “Please don’t let Exxon run the State Department. Senators be brave, reject this man.”
Environmentalists have long scrutinized Exxon Mobil because the company has reportedly long understood the link between between global warming and the burning of fossil fuels. But beginning in the 1990s, Exxon reportedly began giving money “to dozens of right-leaning interest groups whose main purpose was to cast doubt on that very science,” the New York Times reports.
Though Tillerson has conceded that climate change is an issue, notes the Times, Trump has called it a “Chinese hoax.”