The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has denied he has considered resignation and pledged loyalty to Donald Trump in the wake of a report that he had called the president a “moron”.
“There has never been a consideration in my mind to leave. I serve at the appointment of the president and I’m here as long as the president thinks I can be useful to achieving his objectives,” Tillerson said at a hastily arranged press appearance on Wednesday.
But he did not deny the report on NBC News on Wednesday morning that he had derided Trump as a “moron” in a meeting of White House national security officials and members of the cabinet. Instead, he shrugged off the report as “petty nonsense” and issued a stream of praise for the president.
“He loves his country. He puts America and Americans first. He’s smart. He demands results wherever he goes and he holds those around him accountable for whether they have done the job he has asked him to do,” Tillerson said.
Moments after his statement, CNN also reported that he had called Trump a moron and that Trump had been made aware of it.
After Tillerson’s appearance, the state department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, held a separate press conference and denied Tillerson had called the president a moron, insisting: “He never said that.”
For those who wanted him to resign, Nauert said: “Go ahead and keep pushing, because that will only strengthen his resolve.”
The secretary of state said he had not talked to the president on Wednesday morning before making his statement, saying Trump was on his way to Las Vegas. But the president was clearly watching Tillerson, tweeting within a few minutes.
“The NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec Tillerson and VP Pence. It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!” Trump wrote.
After Tillerson’s statement, a NBC correspondent put out a tweet quoting MSNBC anchorwoman Stephanie Ruhle as saying: “My source didn’t just say he called him a moron. He said he called him an f-ing moron.”
The report by NBC News is the latest in a long series of snapshots of an administration in near constant crisis, largely as a result of the erratic and abrasive character of the president. In its first nine months it has been dogged by resignations, gaffes, failed legislative initiatives, and scandals, to a degree unmatched by any administration in modern US history
Trump has openly disparaged his own top officials, such as the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and repeatedly contradicted and undercut Tillerson – most recently when the secretary of state was in China to explore ways of containing the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Tillerson mentioned said there were channels of communication between Washington and Pyongyang. Soon afterwards, Trump went on Twitter to say the secretary of state was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man [Trump’s nickname for Kim Jong-un]”.
“Save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” he tweeted.
Speculation on whether Tillerson would resign has swirled around Washington throughout the summer, and apparently for good reason.
Tillerson was in Texas for his son’s wedding in late July, when Trump addressed the Boy Scouts of America, an organisation Tillerson once ran and is passionate about.
The president’s address made little allowance for the fact he was addressing an audience of teenagers and Trump spent much of it scoring political points against his rivals and boasting about his election success more than eight months earlier.
Tillerson threatened not to return to Washington, according to NBC citing three unnamed sources “with direct knowledge of the threats”. The report said the defence secretary, James Mattis, and retired General John Kelly, who would later become White House chief of staff, helped talk him out of resigning for the sake of national stability.
When Tillerson did return to Washington, Mike Pence, the vice-president, is reported to have arranged a meeting with him to counsel him on how to get on with Trump.
Tillerson’s spokesman, RC Hammond, said Tillerson did not consider quitting over the summer and did not call the president a moron. He told NBC he was unaware of Tillerson’s meeting with Pence.
Pence’s office also denied the NBC report.
“The vice-president can also confirm that, as the secretary of state made clear, at no time did he and the secretary ever discuss the prospect of the secretary’s resignation from the administration,” Pence’s office said.
Earlier this year, Tillerson admitted that he did not want to be US secretary of state and only took the job because his wife convinced him to do it.
Tillerson had not met Donald Trump before being summoned to Trump Tower after the election, ostensibly to talk to the president-elect “about the world” and his experiences as an oil company CEO. He was “stunned” to be offered the job of secretary or state, he said.
“I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” Tillerson told the Independent Journal Review (IJR) in March. “My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.”
Twitter users seized upon the row to recirculate a cartoon that Trump originally posted in 2014.
Credit : Guardian
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