The report, based on conversations with at least three unnamed senior Trump administration officials, reveals simmering tensions within Trump’s team and attempts by other top officials to maintain the appearance of cohesion in a presidency plagued by high-profile controversies.
Here’s the rundown:
- The name game: Tillerson reportedly called Trump a “moron” (or a “fucking moron,” according to NBC News’ Stephanie Ruhle) after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon between Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials. This was just days before Trump’s politicized speech to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson used to lead, and a day after Trump considered firing the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and compared “the decision-making process on troop levels to the renovation of a high-end New York restaurant,” as NBC News put it.
- International relations get personal: At the center of the alleged tensions between Tillerson and Trump is the president’s foreign policy stances, including those toward Iran and Qatar.
- Adults in the room: Vice President Mike Pence, unnamed officials said, had to talk Tillerson into remaining in the administration at least through the end of 2017. Gen. John Kelly, now Trump’s chief of staff, and Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis both urged Tillerson to remain in the administration, NBC News reports.
- Deny, deny, deny: State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond denied the accounts by NBC News sources, saying Tillerson did not call Trump a moron. He also said he was aware of only one private meeting between Tillerson and Pence, during which the pair discussed whether Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was valuable to the administration.
Read the full NBC News report here.
Update 9:51am CT, Oct. 4: Trump appeared to respond to the NBC News report on Wednesday morning, calling the network “fake news” and “even more dishonest than CNN,” which has born the brunt of the president’s anti-media ire.
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
Update 10:17am CT, Oct. 4: At a surprise press conference on Wednesday morning, Tillerson denied threatening to resign. “I have never considered leaving this post,” he said. The secretary of state vowed to remain in the post until the president asks him to step down. He did not deny calling Trump a moron. “I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” Tillerson said in response to a reporter’s question about the alleged insult.