WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would not directly state whether or not he called President Trump a “moron,” as alleged in an NBC News report, but said at a morning press conference that his “commitment to the success of our president and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve.”
According to the report, tensions between Trump and Tillerson peaked over the summer after Trump gave a politically charged speech at the Boy Scout Jamboree in July. Tillerson once led the Boy Scouts of America, and reportedly threatened not to return to his post in Washington before other cabinet officials — John Kelly and James Mattis — convinced him to stay. Vice President Mike Pence reportedly gave Tillerson a “pep talk” afterward that included encouragement on toeing Trump’s policy line.
The report said Trump and Tillerson have battled on issues such as Iran, North Korea, Qatar and the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville; Trump has also wanted Tillerson to publicly defend him more. Tillerson allegedly called Trump a “moron” in a July 20 Pentagon meeting in response to the president suggesting that he would can the commander in Afghanistan and comparing troop-level decisions to a 1980s N.Y. restaurant renovation.
Tillerson emerged at the State Department for an unscheduled statement after the story broke, saying he wanted to “dispel this notion that I have ever considered leaving.”
“There’s never been a consideration in my mind to leave. I serve at the appointment of the president and I am here for as long as the president feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives,” he said.
Asked if he called Trump a moron, Tillerson replied, “I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that.”
“I mean, this is — this is what I don’t understand about Washington. Again, I’m not from this place, but the places I come from we don’t deal with that kind of petty nonsense. And it is intended to do nothing but divide people. And I’m just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration,” he added.
Tillerson said he had not spoken yet today with Trump, who was on his way to Las Vegas.
Trump went after NBC on Twitter: “NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN. They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!”
“The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence. It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!” he added.
Asked en route to Nevada if Trump has confidence in Tillerson, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied, “As we’ve said many times before, if the president doesn’t have confidence in somebody, they will no longer be in their position.”