Update: State Dept. Spox Denies ‘Moron’ Remark After Tillerson Dodges Question at Presser

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson set off on Thursday for Beijing for talks with senior Chinese leaders

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson quashed talk Wednesday that he considered leaving his post as America’s top diplomat. His denial came at a press conference at the main State Department building in Washington, DC.

“The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post,” Tillerson declared, later adding, “President Trump and his administration will keep moving forward as one team with one mission: doing great things for the United States of America to make America great again.”

Tillerson’s pronouncement comes after a Wednesday NBC News report that he had “stunned a handful of senior administration officials” when he called his boss, President Donald Trump, a “moron” behind closed doors in July. Vice President Mike Pence allegedly had to “intervene” to keep Tillerson from resigning. Tillerson spokesman R.C. Hammond disputed the accuracy of that report, but as it came as part of a steady stream of rumors and reports of tensions and breakdown between Tillerson and the president, it fueled speculation that the press conference might be Tillerson’s last as secretary of state.

Monday, before the emergence of the “moron” remark, Trump kept up the appearance of full confidence in his secretary of state, calling him “wonderful” and supporting his strategy in North Korea.

Minutes before Tillerson took to the podium, President Trump tweeted that NBC News was “fake news,” an apparent allusion to the “moron” remark:

After the conference, the president added:

Despite Trump’s tweet, Tillerson did not “totally” refute the NBC report. A reporter promptly asked the secretary of state if there was anything other than his consideration of resigning that he considered “erroneous” in the NBC report, a thinly veiled reference to the “moron” remark central to the article. Tillerson played mum, saying, “I think it’s the most important element of the article to reaffirm my commitment to this role that President Trump has asked me to serve and to dispel with this notion that I have ever considered leaving.”

Refusing to deny having disparaged the president, Tillerson emphasized his continued commitment to his job and that any departure from that post would come at Trump’s prerogative: “I am here for as long as the president considers it useful to achieving his objectives.”

Update at 2:49 p.m. eastern:

Hours after Tillerson concluded his press conference, State Department Chief Spokeswoman Heather Nauert issued a categorical denial of the secretary of state having called President Trump a moron at her daily press briefing.

“Let me clarify,” Nauert said in response to a reporter’s question, “the secretary does not use that kind of language. The secretary did not use that type of language to speak about the President of United States. He does not use that language to speak about anyone … he did not say that.”

Nauert, in her opening, reiterated Tillerson’s commitment to remaining at the State Department, concluding by saying, “For those that want the secretary to resign, go ahead and keep pushing, because that will only strengthen his resolve.”


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.