NBC News reported Wednesday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson threatened to resign this summer in frustration over the president’s actions and referred to Trump as a “moron” after a July meeting.
The story, which cited multiple current and former senior administration officials, also said Vice President Mike Pence had to step in to calm Tillerson over his anger at the president.
The NBC News report comes after a weekend in which Trump appeared to publicly undermine Tillerson. The president tweeted Sunday that the secretary of state was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korea. Just a day before, Tillerson had announced he was in direct contact with North Korean officials as they tried to ease tensions.
Tillerson’s “moron” comment came after a July meeting at the Pentagon on the day after Trump criticized his military advisers and suggested he might fire the general in charge of the forces in Afghanistan, according to the report.
A few days later, Trump delivered a rambling, cringe-worthy speech that appeared to include a reference to a sex yacht to the Boy Scouts of America, which Tillerson once led. Tillerson was apparently furious:
Tillerson, who was in Texas for his son’s wedding in late July when Trump addressed the Boy Scouts, had threatened not to return to Washington, according to three people with direct knowledge of the threats. His discussions with retired Gen. John Kelly, who would soon be named Trump’s second chief of staff, and Defense Secretary James Mattis, helped initially to reassure him, four people with direct knowledge of the exchanges said
At that point, NBC reported, Tillerson had already been embittered by “mounting policy disputes and clashes” with the administration, including those involving Iran and Qatar. Pence intervened to give Tillerson a “pep talk.” Other members of the administration reportedly begged Tillerson to stay, for the sake of the administration’s stability.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the press Trump still has confidence in Tillerson, and White House and State Department officials refuted the NBC News story’s portrayal of their relationship.
But even before Sunday’s comments on North Korea, there had been signs of continued tension between Trump and Tillerson. In August, after Trump’s infamous “many sides” comment about violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Tillerson told reporters “the president speaks for himself.”