The Slatest

Rex Tillerson Says Trump’s Quid Pro Quo With Ukraine Was “Wrong”

Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson
President Donald Trump and then–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines, in November 2017.
AFP Contributor/Getty Images

If things had played out differently, it would have been former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listening in on the infamous July 25 call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky instead of current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Tillerson’s tenure in Trump’s inner circle was a fraught one, however, and it ended with his unceremonious dismissal via Twitter in March 2018. When asked by PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff Monday about what he would have done in the face of the quid pro quo orchestrated by Trump and a small band of cronies, Tillerson demurred, but said that using U.S. military aid to strong-arm a foreign country into investigating a political rival is wrong. “Clearly, asking for personal favors and using United States assets as collateral is wrong,” Tillerson said. “There’s no two ways about it.”

“If you’re seeking some kind of personal gain and you’re using—whether it’s American foreign aid or American weapons or American influence—that’s wrong,” Tillerson continued. “And I think everyone understands that.” That might seem obvious to the reality-based world, but in the revolving door of craven Republican excuses for the president’s abhorrent conduct, there is no such thing as right and wrong—there are just things Trump does, which are, by definition, fine. Tillerson’s rebuke of Trump’s use of the White House and the American people’s money to further his own political interests might not be a forceful rallying cry for truth and justice, but it’s something. It’s a concession to reality that very few in the GOP have been willing to make. Tillerson doesn’t have the political heft to lead the party to more firm ethical and moral ground on Trump, much less open the floodgates of rebuke. But every concession that the world is still round feels like a small victory, somehow. And you never know which straw it is that will break the camel’s back, until the poor guy’s writhing around in pain on the ground.

Tillerson pulled any further punches that could be interpreted as direct body blows to his old boss. “I think the country is in good hands with the American people,” Tillerson responded boringly to a question of whether the country is in good hands with Trump. “I believe the American people are smart. I believe the American people ultimately, if they see something that they don’t feel is serving the American people or serving our national security,” they will make a change.