President Donald Trump's relationship with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reportedly deteriorating amid foreign policy disputes and personality clashes. Several Trump administration officials have privately predicted that Tillerson will leave his post in the near future.
On Oct. 4, NBC News reported that Vice President Mike Pence had to persuade Tillerson not to quit the State Department sometime in July. Tillerson was reportedly frustrated by the Trump administration and the president's conduct. During a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon, Tillerson allegedly told staffers that he believed Trump was a "moron."
Shortly after the story broke, Tillerson held an impromptu press conference to assert that he had never considered resigning.
"The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state, because I have never considered leaving this post ... I am here for as long as the president feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives," Tillerson said, according to Vox.
Trump took to social media to call the report a fabrication and demanded an apology from NBC News. Journalist Stephanie Ruhle, who contributed to the story, not only stood by her sourcing but doubled down on the report that Tillerson had disparaged Trump's intelligence to staffers.
"My source didn't just say that [Tillerson] called [Trump] a moron," Ruhle told MSNBC. "He said a 'f**king moron.'"
On Oct. 6, a dozen Trump administration officials, all of whom requested anonymity, disclosed to CNN that the Trump-Tillerson relationship was as acrimonious as the initial report indicated and that the secretary of state was likely to resign.
These officials asserted that Trump and Tillerson's personalities had never meshed and that their professional relationship was strained by profound foreign policy disagreements, particularly about containing the North Korean nuclear program.
The administration officials alleged that Trump was unlikely to fire Tillerson because he did not want to create the impression that his administration was hemorrhaging senior staff and Cabinet officials. Sources close to Tillerson said that he wanted to remain in the State Department until he completed his first year as secretary of state.
Trump was allegedly furious after it was reported that Tillerson had questioned his intelligence to staffers. While some administration officials said that Trump knew about the insult beforehand and was angry when it became public knowledge, others said that he learned about it for the first time when it was reported and that he spent roughly two hours complaining to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
While administration officials emphasized Tillerson's alleged frustration with Trump, several White House aides said that the secretary of state was widely disliked by the president's inner circle.
"People in [the White House] who are loyal to the president think Rex Tillerson hates [Trump]," a White House official told The Daily Beast.
On Oct. 5, Trump reaffirmed to reporters during a stop in Las Vegas that he believed the reports about Tillerson were inaccurate and said that he had confidence in his secretary of state.
"Total confidence in Rex," Trump said. "I have total confidence."