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US secy of state Tillerson wanted to quit, called Trump a ‘moron’

Tillerson has been a reluctant member of the Trump administration, saying in an interview that he had not wanted to be the secretary of state and took the job because of his wife.

world Updated: Oct 04, 2017 18:00 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson,President Donald Trump,Boy Scouts of America
File photo of US secretary of state Rex Tillerson.(AFP)

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson referred to President Donald Trump as a “moron” and was on the verge of quitting this summer against the backdrop of mounting policy disputes and clashes with the White House, NBC News reported on Wednesday.

Tensions between the two came to a head around the time Trump delivered a politicised speech to the Boy Scouts of America, which Tillerson once led, in late July, NBC quoted multiple senior administration officials as saying.

Just days earlier, Tillerson openly disparaged Trump, referring to him as a “moron”, after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of the president’s national security team and cabinet officials, according to three officials familiar with the incident.

Vice President Mike Pence counselled Tillerson, fourth in line to the presidency, on ways to ease tensions with Trump, and other top administration officials urged him to remain in the job at least until the end of the year, the officials said.

Tillerson has been a reluctant member of the Trump administration, saying in an interview in March that he had not wanted to be the secretary of state and took the job because of his wife. “My wife told me I’m supposed to do this,” the former ExxonMobil executive had said.

He has been slow to fill vacant slots in a severely depleted state department and has apparently alienated officials in the White House, the cabinet and Congress. Tillerson has also clashed with Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who has a portfolio that includes policies for the Middle East, officials said.

Tillerson “stunned a handful of senior administration officials when he called the president a ‘moron’ after a tense two-hour long meeting in a secure room at the Pentagon” on July 20, the report cited three officials, who were present or briefed on the incident, as saying.

The meeting came a day after another meeting in the White House Situation Room on the Afghanistan policy, where Trump rattled his national security advisers by suggesting he might fire the top US commander for the Afghan war and “comparing the decision-making process on troop levels to the renovation of a high-end New York restaurant”, according to participants in the meeting.

It was not clear whether Trump was told of Tillerson’s outburst after the Pentagon meeting or to what extent the president was briefed on Tillerson’s plan to resign earlier in the year.

US President Donald Trump sits alongside his secretary of state Rex Tillerson (2nd L) and senior adviser Jared Kushner (L) at the White House on September 26, 2017. ( AFP )

Trump’s July 24 speech at the Boy Scouts gathering struck a political tone unusual for the event, with the president talking about his victory and the “cesspool” of Washington. He joked about firing his health and human services secretary if Republicans didn’t pass a healthcare bill. The head of the Boy Scouts later apologised for the speech.

Tillerson, an Eagle Scout and a former president of the Boy Scouts, was in Texas at the time of Trump’s speech and had threatened not to return to Washington, according to three people with knowledge of the threats.

NBC quoted the unnamed officials as saying that the administration, beset by a “series of high-level firings and resignations, would have struggled to manage the fallout from a Cabinet secretary of (Tillerson’s) stature departing within the first year of Trump’s presidency”.

Pence had spoken to Tillerson about “being respectful of the president in meetings and in public” and urged that disagreements should be sorted out privately, a White House official said.

Though the two leaders have made progress, the disputes have not abated, the report said. The tensions spilled out into the open again when Trump appeared to publicly chide Tillerson on his handling of the crisis with North Korea.

Tillerson’s top state department spokesman, RC Hammond, said the secretary did not consider quitting and denied that Tillerson called Trump a “moron”.

Trump and Tillerson have clashed on a number of key foreign policy issues, including Iran and Qatar. Trump was angered by Tillerson’s response to a question about the president’s handling of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

First Published: Oct 04, 2017 17:46 IST