Rex Tillerson, President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, denied reports that he wanted to leave his position earlier this year. However, he did not outright deny that he called Trump a “moron” during an unscheduled press conference on Wednesday morning.
“Let me tell you what I’ve learned about this president, whom I did not know before taking this office,” Tillerson said. “He loves this country, he puts Americans and America first.”
“While I’m new to Washington, I have learned that there are some who try and sow dissension to advance their own agenda by tearing others apart in an effort to undermine President Trump’s own agenda. I do not, and I will not, operate that way and the same applies to everyone on my team here at the State Department.”
NBC News reported on Wednesday that Tillerson was reportedly was close to resigning from his position this summer around Trump’s much-criticized speech at the Boy Scouts Jamboree in July. Tillerson once led the organization.
Shortly before the Boy Scouts speech, unnamed sources told NBC News reporters, Tillerson called Trump a “fucking moron” after a meeting on July 20 with members of the president’s national security team and cabinet officials.
On Wednesday, Tillerson refused to deny that he called Trump a “moron,” saying only that he would not discuss “petty nonsense.”
“This is what I don’t understand about Washington,” he said. “I’m not from this place. But the places I come from we don’t deal with that kind of petty nonsense. It is intended to do nothing but divide people. I’m just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration.”
Tillerson and Trump reportedly disagree on foreign policy stances—including those toward Iran and Qatar. Vice President Mike Pence and other officials reportedly had to talk Tillerson into staying in the administration, urging him to stay “at least until the end of the year,” according to NBC News.
Tillerson denied meeting with Pence during his press conference.
“There’s never been a consideration in my mind to leave,” he said. “I serve at the appointment of the president, and I am here for as long as the president feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives.”
Trump tweeted shortly before Tillerson’s press conference, alluding to what the secretary of state would say.
“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!” Trump tweeted, apparently referring to NBC News’ report.
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
After the speech, Trump continued to rail against the media.
“The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence. It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!” he wrote.