- Thomson Reuters
During an unusual press briefing on Wednesday morning, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied news reports that he had considered leaving the administration.
In a short statement, Tillerson said that a report that he had openly criticized President Donald Trump after a meeting with his national security team and Cabinet officials at the Pentagon was “petty” and characterized it as an attempt by the media and others to undermine the administration.
“I’m not gonna deal with petty stuff like that,” he said in response to a question about an NBC News report that he called Trump a “moron.”
“The places I come from, we don’t deal with that kind of petty nonsense, and it’s intended to do nothing but divide people,” Tillerson said. “And I’m just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration.”
He more specifically denied reports that he had to be persuaded by Vice President Mike Pence to stay in his position last summer.
“The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post,” he said, later adding, “There’s never been a consideration in my mind to leave.”
Tillerson went on to praise Trump, the administration more broadly, and his colleagues at the State Department.
Of Trump, he said, “He’s smart, he demands results wherever he goes, and he holds those around him accountable.”
Both before and after Tillerson’s press conference, Trump slammed the NBC report on Twitter.
“NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN,” Trump tweeted before Tillerson spoke. “They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!”
After the press conference, Trump said in another tweet that Tillerson had denied the NBC report.
“The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence,” he tweeted. “It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!”
An NBC News spokeswoman told Business Insider on Wednesday that the news organization stands by its reporting. Political reporter Carol Lee said on Wednesday that she and her NBC colleagues “extensively reported” the story, speaking with a dozen sources.
These reports come after months of rumored tensions between the president and his secretary of state.
On Sunday, Trump publicly undermined Tillerson’s efforts to negotiate with the North Korean government. Just a day after Tillerson told reporters in Beijing that he had a direct line of communication open with Pyongyang over North Korea’s nuclear tests, Trump said diplomacy with the rogue nation was useless.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” the president tweeted, using his nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”