Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared Wednesday that he never considered abandoning his job as President Donald Trump’s top diplomat, disputing what he called “erroneous” reports that he was on the verge of resigning earlier this year.
Tillerson, however, didn’t deny a story that he had called the president a “moron” after a contentious July 20 meeting at the Pentagon.
Watch the full conference here
“We don’t deal with that kind of petty nonsense,” Tillerson said. “I’m just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration.”
The press-shy, former Exxon Mobil CEO addressed reporters at the State Department and fielded questions after an NBC News report appeared to throw his future into doubt.
The story said Tillerson had been on the verge of resigning this summer amid mounting policy disputes with the White House. It said the tensions came to a head around the time Trump gave a politicized speech in July to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson once led.
Citing three anonymous officials familiar with the incident, NBC also said Tillerson referred to Trump as a “moron” after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials.
Minutes before Tillerson spoke, Trump seemed to give Tillerson his backing.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
Shortly after Tillerson’s remarks, Trump tweeted from Air Force One on his way to Las Vegas, where 59 people died earlier this week in the biggest mass shooting in modern American history.
“The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence. It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!” It wasn’t clear what Trump was referring to regarding Vice President Mike Pence.
NBC News said it stood by its reporting.
Appearing somber, Tillerson delivered his remarks before a lectern in the Treaty Room at the State Department — a small antechamber where the walls are hung with oil paintings of past secretaries of state. He characteristically betrayed little emotion, though sounded indignant as he responded to questions about whether he had ever called the president a “moron.”
Instead, he sought to frame his response by praising Trump’s foreign policy and emphasizing that he has been a good team player. He pointedly noted successes by Nikki Haley, Trump’s U.N. ambassador, with whom he has been privately clashing for several months.
“President Trump’s foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think of what is achievable,” Tillerson said.
His clear objective was to “dispel with this notion that I have ever considered leaving.”
“There has never been consideration in my mind to leave,” he added.
Tillerson also rejected NBC News’ assertion that Pence had to persuade him this summer to stay in Trump’s Cabinet.
A person familiar with that conversation also disputed that Pence sought to coax Tillerson into not quitting. The talks focused on easing tensions between Tillerson and the White House and finding a way for the oil man to operate better within the Cabinet, said the individual who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the private discussion and demanded anonymity.
Story by The Associated Press
Read the full statement here:
Good morning. There were some news reports this morning that I want to address. First, my commitment to the success of our President and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as Secretary of State. President Trump’s “America first” agenda has given voice to millions who felt completely abandoned by the political status quo and who felt their interests came second to those of other countries. President Trump’s foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country. We’re finding new ways to govern that deliver new victories. Our job is now to achieve results on behalf of America, and we are doing that.
We’ve created international unity around our peaceful pressure campaign against North Korea, including influencing China to exert unprecedented economic influence on North Korea. At the Riyadh summit, the President rallied Muslim-majority nations to assume new responsibilities for stopping terrorism. NATO members are now contributing more to shared security. And our approach to South Asia, and specifically Afghanistan, means building upon our relationships with India and Pakistan to stamp out terrorism and support the Afghan Government in providing security for their own people. And ISIS’s fraudulent caliphate in Iraq and Syria is on the brink of being completely extinguished thanks to an aggressive new strategy led by the President.
What we have accomplished, we have done as a team. Similarly, Secretary Mnuchin has levied economic sanctions on North Korea and related entities. Countries must increasingly decide whether they will do business with North Korea or with the community of peace-loving nations. Ambassador Haley has spearheaded and achieved enormous success, passing the toughest UN sanctions to date on North Korea. General Mattis and I communicate virtually every day, and we agree that there must be the highest level of coordination between our diplomatic efforts and our military efforts. You can’t have a stronger partner than a secretary of defense who embraces diplomacy, and I hope he feels he has the partner he needs at the State Department.
And this is just the beginning of the list of partners and friends across the government who are all working for the American people. There is much to be done, and we’re just getting started.
To address a few specifics that have been erroneously reported this morning, the Vice President has never had to persuade me to remain the Secretary of State because I have never considered leaving this post. I value the friendship and the counsel of the Vice President and I admire his leadership within President Trump’s administration to address the many important agendas of President Trump, both from a foreign policy perspective and a diplomatic – I’m sorry, a domestic objective.
Let me tell you what I’ve learned about this President, whom I did not know before taking this office. He loves his country. He puts Americans and America first. He’s smart. He demands results wherever he goes, and he holds those around him accountable for whether they’ve done the job he’s asked them to do. Accountability is one of the bedrock values the President and I share.
While I’m new to Washington, I have learned that there are some who try to sow dissension to advance their own agenda by tearing others apart in an effort to undermine President Trump’s own agenda. I do not and I will not operate that way, and the same applies to everyone on my team here at the State Department.
When I wake up in the morning, my first thoughts are about the safety of our citizens at home and abroad. There is no more important responsibility I carry with me than ensuring that Americans are safe. Providing for the security of the United States must be the number-one goal of our American foreign policy. President Trump and his administration will keep moving forward as one team with one mission: doing great things for the United States of America to make America great again.