In a press conference full of effusive praise for President Trump on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that he had never considered leaving the Trump administration, despite an NBC News report earlier in the day that claimed otherwise.
“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,” Tillerson said, addressing the report, which also claimed Tillerson had “openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a ‘moron,'” after a meeting in July with Pentagon officials. “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.”
When pressed further about the report’s contents, Tillerson responded, “I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that. This is what I don’t understand about Washington. I’m not from this place. The place I come from, we don’t deal with that petty nonsense. 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.”
Tillerson, however, did not deny calling Trump a “moron.”
Trump himself chimed in, immediately following the press conference. “The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence,” the president tweeted. “It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2017
In a statement on Wednesday, an NBC spokeswoman reiterated, “We stand by our reporting.” CNN producer Jason Sehr added that a source had confirmed the original story to CNN as well, noting that “President Trump was aware Tillerson spoke of him in such a way.”
On NBC, correspondent Stephanie Ruhle, who compiled the report, noted that Tillerson had actually taken a much harsher tone when referring to the president following the July Pentagon meeting, saying that he had called Trump an “F-ing moron.”
“My source didn’t just say that he called him a moron. He said an ‘f-ing moron.'” Ruhle said.
On Wednesday, in a seeming attempt to patch the relationship, Tillerson praised the president for his America First agenda and said the administration had created a global, unified “peaceful pressure” campaign against North Korea, which has become increasingly antagonistic of late.
“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,” he said. “[His] foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country. …Our job is now to achieve results on behalf of America, and we are doing that.”
The two men found themselves at odds with one another on Sunday, after Trump appeared to break with the secretary of state over the official administration response to North Korea.
On Saturday, Tillerson told reporters that the United States was “probing” to see whether North Korean leaders were interested in diplomatic discussions, according to Reuters. “We are probing, so stay tuned,” he said. “We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation. We’ve made it clear that we hope to resolve this through talks. I think the most immediate action that we need is to calm things down. They’re a little overheated right now, and I think we need to calm them down first.”
…Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
In a sudden reversal, Trump tweeted on Sunday that Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”
UPDATE: In a statement to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert responded to questions about whether Tillerson had called Trump a “moron”, saying, “The secretary does not use that type of language. The secretary did not use that type of language to speak about the president of the United States. He does not use that language to speak about anyone. He did not say that.”