Tillerson defends Trump against mental unfitness claims

WASHINGTON • Washington's chief diplomat Rex Tillerson found himself obliged to defend President Donald Trump's fitness for office after a bombshell new book called into doubt his mental health.

In an extraordinary portion of a television interview on foreign policy challenges on Friday, Mr Tillerson was asked about claims that Mr Trump has a short attention span, regularly repeats himself and refuses to read briefing notes.

"I've never questioned his mental fitness. I've had no reason to question his mental fitness," said Mr Tillerson, whose office was last year forced to deny reports he had referred to Mr Trump as a "moron" after a national security meeting.

The former ExxonMobil chief executive insisted the right decisions had been made and that America is in a stronger place internationally thanks to Mr Trump's policies.

Mr Tillerson was forced to mount his defence as Washington devoured a new supposed tell-all - Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

The book by journalist Michael Wolff includes extensive quotes from Mr Steve Bannon, Mr Trump's former chief strategist who left the White House in August, and its publication sparked a very public break between the former allies.

A STABLE GENIUS

I went from VERY successful businessman, to top TV Star... to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius... and a very stable genius at that!

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, hitting back at doubts over his ability to govern


NO REASON FOR DOUBTS

I've never questioned his mental fitness. I've had no reason to question his mental fitness.

MR REX TILLERSON, responding to allegations in the book


STILL ON BOARD

I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected.

MS REBEKAH MERCER, explaining the decision to stop funding Mr Bannon

The White House issued a scorched-earth dismissal of "Fire and Fury" along with its author and his sources, with press secretary Sarah Sanders calling it "complete fantasy".

Senior advisers to the White House are considering whether to press for the ouster of former aide Katie Walsh from a pro-Trump political group and the Republican National Committee over disparaging comments Mr Wolff attributed to her, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Ms Walsh is quoted as saying that working for the president was "like trying to figure out what a child wants". She has denied saying that.

White House aides insist they remain focused on implementing the President's goals. Some people quoted in the book have insisted the accounts are untrue and have pointed to reports that Wolff has a reputation for exaggeration.

Many of the book's most salacious claims have unclear attribution or do not cite a source at all.

First Lady Melania Trump's spokesman Stephanie Grisham told CNN it is "a work of fiction. It is a long-form tabloid that peddles false statements and total fabrications."

Mr Bannon's top financial patron cut ties with him on Thursday. Billionaire Rebekah Mercer said she and her father, Mr Robert Mercer, former co-chief executive officer of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, would not finance his projects.

They have been a mainstay of Mr Bannon's political operation.

"I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected," Ms Mercer said.

Her statement followed a Wednesday afternoon call with the President, two people familiar with the conversation said.

Mr Trump crowed about the break in a tweet on Friday morning: "The Mercer Family recently dumped the leaker known as Sloppy Steve Bannon. Smart!"

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 07, 2018, with the headline 'Tillerson defends Trump against mental unfitness claims'. Print Edition | Subscribe