US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has refused to deny that he called President Donald Trump a “moron” in front of members of his national security team and Cabinet officials.
America’s NBC News reported overnight that Mr Tillerson came close to resigning in July after mounting policy disputes and clashes with the White House.
Tensions reportedly came to a head around the time Mr Trump delivered his now infamous speech in late July to the Boy Scouts of America, an organisation Mr Tillerson once led.
According to NBC, just days earlier Mr Tillerson had openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a “moron,” after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Mr Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials.
The NBC story immediately prompted a statement from Mr Tillerson – and a series of tweets from Mr Trump, accusing the network of fake news.
In his statement addressing the NBC story, Mr Tillerson denied considering quitting his post but, significantly, did not deny calling the President a “moron”.
“I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he said, sidestepping the allegation.
Reporter: The report says you called Trump a "moron"
— CNN (@CNN) October 4, 2017
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert later flatly denied that Mr Tillerson called Mr Trump a moron. She also said Mr Tillerson hasn’t said sorry to the President, as no apology was needed.
NBC said Vice President Mike Pence has counselled Mr Tillerson, who is fourth in line to the presidency, on ways to ease tensions with Mr Trump, while other top administration officials urged him to remain in the job at least until the end of the year.
They said officials believed the Trump administration, beset by high-level firings and resignations, would have struggled to manage the fallout from a Secretary of State Cabinet departing within the first year of Mr Trump’s presidency.
NBC said Mr Pence had since spoken to Mr Tillerson about being respectful of the President in meetings and in public, urging that any disagreements be sorted out privately.
They quoted an official saying progress had since been made.
But, despite this, disputes between the president and his secretary of state have continued.
Tensions surfaced again last weekend when the president seemed to publicly chide Mr Tillerson on his handling of the crisis with North Korea.
Mr Tillerson had said the US was attempting diplomatic talks with North Korea, only for Mr Trump to tweet: “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man”.
He followed with another soon after that said: “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
Mr Trump was back on Twitter after the NBC story broke overnight, telling his followers: “NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN. They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2017
He issued another shortly after saying NBC should “apologise to AMERICA”. The network stood by its reporting.
Bruce Guthrie is the co-founder and editorial director of The New Daily. He will be writing from America regularly over the next eight weeks.