Trump heaps insults on ex-top diplomat Tillerson

US President Donald Trump and Mr Rex Tillerson in the Oval Office of the White House ahead of the latter's swearing-in as secretary of state last year. Mr Trump sacked Mr Tillerson in March.
US President Donald Trump and Mr Rex Tillerson in the Oval Office of the White House ahead of the latter's swearing-in as secretary of state last year. Mr Trump sacked Mr Tillerson in March.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • Absence does not make the heart grow fonder when it comes to US President Donald Trump and his first secretary of state, Mr Rex Tillerson.

Nine months after Mr Trump summarily dismissed his top diplomat by tweet, both men were back to bickering as they traded accusations in a relationship that at turns has been icy and blistering.

After Mr Tillerson publicly said their encounters grew rocky over Mr Trump's directives to do things that were illegal, Mr Trump hit back in a tweet in which he branded Mr Tillerson "dumb as a rock" and "lazy as hell".

The biting retort came after Mr Tillerson made his first public remarks about Mr Trump during an appearance last Thursday night at a charity event in Texas, where the former secretary of state has retired to his ranch.

"So often, the President would say, 'Here's what I want you to do, and here's how I want you to do it'," Mr Tillerson said at a fundraiser for the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston. "And I would have to say to him, 'Mr President, I understand what you want to do. But you can't do it that way. It violates the law'."

As if to confirm how toxic their interactions had become, Mr Trump praised Mr Tillerson's successor, Mr Mike Pompeo, and then dismissed the abilities of Mr Tillerson, who ran Exxon Mobil before stepping down to work for Mr Trump.

"Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn't have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn't get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!"

Mr Trump's condemnation was in stark contrast to the praise he expressed when nominating Mr Tillerson for the job; he described Mr Tillerson in December 2016 as a "world-class player" who made "massive deals" while CEO of a mammoth oil company. But the honeymoon was short-lived.

Mr Tillerson privately fought against many of the budget cuts the White House enforced on him, writing letters in which he argued for more time to downsize and reform the department's structure.

But ultimately he slashed staffing, which contributed to low morale as veteran diplomats were shown the door or made to feel unwelcome and unvalued.

The two men also had starkly different worldviews that manifested in differences over foreign policy.

Mr Tillerson often said he woke up every morning worrying that a State Department employee would be harmed on his watch.

That buttressed his conviction not to rush moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying it would take years to build a facility to adequately meet all the security needs of the workers.

Mr Trump wanted the relocation to take place much faster, and a small mission opened in East Jerusalem in May, about six weeks after Mr Tillerson was canned.

But before he even completed his first year, the rifts were spilling into public view.

After a news report that he had called Mr Trump a "moron", with an expletive as an adjective, at the end of a meeting at the Pentagon, Mr Tillerson refused to directly deny having said it.

In his remarks in Houston last Thursday, Mr Tillerson said Mr Trump won office using modern-day tools to tap strong emotions.

"I will be honest with you. It troubles me that the American people seem to want to know so little about issues that they are satisfied with 128 characters," said Mr Tillerson.

"I don't want that to come across as a criticism of him. It's really a concern I have about us as Americans, and us as a society, and us as citizens."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 09, 2018, with the headline 'Trump heaps insults on ex-top diplomat Tillerson'. Print Edition | Subscribe