John McCain on Tillerson: 'I would never accept an award from Vladimir Putin'

Story highlights

  • "Frankly, I would never accept an award from Vladimir Putin," McCain said.
  • McCain said he'd be happy to listen to what Tillerson had to say about his relationship with Putin.

(CNN)Republican Sen. John McCain said in a radio interview Tuesday that, unlike secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, he wouldn't have accepted an award from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the interview, with the Family Research Council's "Washington Watch" radio program, the Arizona senator also said Tillerson's oppositions to Russian sanctions raised "morality" questions.
Tillerson was awarded the "Order of Friendship" from Putin in 2013. Tillerson received the award at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum along with ExxonMobil President Stephen Greenlee and other Russian and Italian oil executives. ExxonMobil has extensive business dealings with Russia.
    "I do have some legitimate, I think, but concerns about Mr. Tillerson," McCain said. "I believe that after Ukraine, he opposed the sanctions that were put on Russia. He has a very close relationship with Vladimir Putin. By the way, he was given an award by Vladimir Putin. It was sanctioned by Vladimir Putin. That concerns me a great deal."
    McCain said he would meet with Tillerson and have a "debate" about it. He called Putin a "thug, a murderer, and a killer." Still, McCain said he'd be happy to listen to what Tillerson had to say about his relationship.
    "Frankly, I would never accept an award from Vladimir Putin because then you kind of give some credence and credibility to this butcher, this KGB agent, which is what he is," McCain said.
    "I understand why you want to enter into a deal that makes money for your corporation," he added. "ExxonMobil is probably one of the world's largest, if not the largest, corporation in the world. I understand those things. But, at the same time, there are certain ethics and standards that we would expect for any American-based corporation or business."
    "Frankly, being against sanctions after Vladimir Putin invaded basically Ukraine and partitioned it in violation of all international law and took Crimea, then that leads to me to the question, what about the issue of morality? There should be some certain standards whatever business we are in. Again, honoring, accepting an honor from Vladimir Putin legitimatizes Vladimir Putin. You see my point?"