Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sharply criticized his former boss in a wide-ranging interview at the MD Anderson Cancer Center on Thursday night, admitting publicly that President Trump was a “pretty undisciplined” man who “doesn’t like to read” and often had to be reminded about the law.
Hours later, the president fired off an angry tweet calling his former top diplomat “dumb as rocks.”
In the rare public appearance since his ouster from Trump’s cabinet, Tillerson told CBS News reporter Bob Schieffer at the Houston event that he had never met Trump until the day he was asked to be secretary of state.
According to Tillerson, he repeatedly had to stop Trump from engaging in illegal activity.
“So often, the president would say here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it, 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. It violates treaty,’’ Tillerson said, before reiterating a claim he made before he was ousted on March 13—that “there’s no question” Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
Tillerson continued, confessing that his pushback frustrated the president: “I’d say ‘Here’s what we can do. We can go back to Congress and get this law changed. And if that’s what you want to do, there’s nothing wrong with that.’ I told him ‘I’m ready to go up there and fight the fight, if that’s what you want to do.’”
Tillerson did not elaborate on what exactly Trump asked him to do that he viewed was illegal.
Hours after outlets reported on Tillerson’s remarks, President Trump fired off a vicious tweet, writing: “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!”
The former chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil's candid comments come almost nine months after he was was fired as the country’s top diplomat and replaced with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Despite the quick pink slip, Tillerson’s departure was prompted after months of speculation, based on multiple reports, that the secretary and Trump did not have compatible personalities.
In one instance, Tillerson reportedly called Trump a “moron” after a meeting at the Pentagon with members of the White House national security team and cabinet official. Tillerson vehemently denied the report.
On Thursday, the former Trump cabinet member implied he is still troubled by some of the president’s habits.
“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 a 128 characters,” Tillerson said on Thursday, bashing the president’s frequent use of Twitter, his preferred social-media outlet.
Tillerson’s interview marks his first public comments since giving a May commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute, where he spoke of the nation’s “growing crisis in ethics and integrity” with leaders who “conceal the truth.” Many believed the comments were an unsubtle jab at the president.
“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom,” he said at the time.
Tillerson further explained his reservations with the president on Thursday, telling Schieffer that he believes Trump acts only on instinct and does not like to read essential intelligence briefings.
“He acts on his instincts, in some respects, that looks like impulsiveness, but it’s not his intent to act on impulse. I think he really is trying to act on his instincts,” Tillerson said.
He noted how much of a culture shock it was to go from a professionalized, corporate environment to the Trump White House. “It was challenging for me, coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented Exxon Mobil Corporation, to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, 'Look, this is what I believe, and you can try to convince me otherwise, but most of the time you’re not going to do that.’”
—Victoria Albert contributed reporting.