Rex Tillerson has refused to be drawn on whether he had called President Trump a “moron”.
The US Secretary of State – whose department says he didn’t use the word – did deny wanting to quit the administration, as reported by NBC.
“There was some news report this morning that I want to address,” Tillerson said on Wednesday. “There has never been a consideration in my mind to leave.”
The president too has poured cold water on reports that his chief diplomat insulted him as tension between the two rose to the boil during the summer.
“It was fake news, it was a totally phony story,” Donald Trump said during his visit to Las Vegas. He added that he had “total confidence in Rex. I have total confidence”.
The US Vice-President Mike Pence and other senior members of Trump’s team reportedly had to intervene in July to stop Tillerson from resigning.
Pence met with Tillerson in an effort to ease growing discord over policy, NBC reported, citing 12 current and former senior administration officials and other people close to Trump.
Their meeting came days after Tillerson, in a session with Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials at the Pentagon, openly criticised the president and reportedly called him a “moron,” NBC said, citing three officials familiar with the incident.
Differences resurfaced last weekend when the president chided his top diplomat over North Korea.
After Tillerson said Washington was attempting to keep open lines of communication with leader Kim Jong-un over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, Trump replied on Twitter that his secretary of state was “wasting his time”.
I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017