'I'm intact,' Tillerson says, brushing off drama with Trump

2017-10-16 13:22
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Cliff Owen, AP)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Cliff Owen, AP)

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Washington - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday ducked, danced and sidestepped the question of whether he truly called President Donald Trump a "moron", dismissing the brouhaha as the "petty stuff" of Washington.

Though they keep coming, Tillerson insisted the persistent queries aren't hindering his mission as the nation's top diplomat.

Asked about a leading GOP senator's comment - "You cannot publicly castrate your own secretary of state" - Tillerson would have none of it. "I checked. I'm fully intact."

READ: Trump's jibe deepens feud with Tillerson

Again and again, Tillerson declined in a news show interview to attest to the accuracy of the report about his use of the word "moron" to describe the commander in chief.

Tillerson said he was "not dignifying the question with an answer", reprising his response from earlier this month, the morning the story broke, when he used an extraordinary televised statement to insist he had nothing but respect for Trump.

"I'm not making a game out of it," Tillerson said Sunday on CNN's State of the Union. Asked once more, he replied: "I'm not playing."

Drama

Yet Tillerson has let others play it on his behalf. He previously dispatched State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert to flatly deny he ever called the president a "moron".

It was unclear why Tillerson was unwilling to repeat what his spokesperson has said on his behalf. But the continuing questions have brought his strained relationship with the president into renewed focus.

Tillerson insisted the relationship is solid, and that the continuing public focus on whether he's being undermined by the president has not impeded his ability to succeed in his role.

As the drama has played out, Tillerson has brushed it off as meaningless Washington-centric noise that he said he didn't understand as an outsider.

The Texan and former Exxon Mobil CEO never served in government or politics before becoming secretary of state.

"I know the appearance of it certainly looks like there's sometimes disunity," Tillerson said on CBS' Face the Nation. ''There's no confusion among the people that matter."

Questions about Trump's tensions with his secretary of state come as the US faces a series of international crises, including the threat posed by North Korea and fate of the Iran nuclear deal.

Critic

Tillerson's critics, including a growing list of foreign policy experts, have questioned whether he can effectively lead American diplomacy if he's perceived by foreign leaders as being at odds with the true decision-maker: Trump.

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, a Republican who has become a vocal critic of the president, made the castration analogy last week to The Washington Post.

"At the end of the day, he makes decisions," Tillerson said of the president. "I go out and do the best I can to execute those decisions successfully."

Despite Tillerson's attempts to show he's in lockstep with the president, the NBC News report of his "moron" comment infuriated Trump, who privately bashed his secretary of state to associates and publicly challenged Tillerson to an IQ test.

"And I can tell you who is going to win," Trump told Forbes magazine. The White House later said he was joking.

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