I wrote a bit ago about how striking it was that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would not deny calling President Trump a “moron” — even as he was denying another claim made in the very same NBC News story. My reading: He didn't deny it because he probably said it. And now more outlets are confirming that he did.
Because this involves a careful parse, I'm posting Tillerson's full, brief news conference below and annotating the key parts. To see an annotation, click on the yellow, highlighted text.
TILLERSON: Good morning. There were some news reports this morning that I want to address. First, my commitment to the success of our president and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as secretary of state. President Trump’s “America first” agenda has given voice to millions who felt completely abandoned by the political status quo and who felt their interests came second to those of other countries. President Trump’s foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country. We’re finding new ways to govern that deliver new victories. Our job is now to achieve results on behalf of America, and we are doing that.
We’ve created international unity around our peaceful pressure campaign against North Korea, including influencing China to exert unprecedented economic influence on North Korea. At the Riyadh summit, the president rallied Muslim-majority nations to assume new responsibilities for stopping terrorism. NATO members are now contributing more to shared security. And our approach to South Asia, and specifically Afghanistan, means building upon our relationships with India and Pakistan to stamp out terrorism and support the Afghan government in providing security for their own people. And ISIS’s fraudulent caliphate in Iraq and Syria is on the brink of being completely extinguished, thanks to an aggressive new strategy led by the president.
What we have accomplished, we have done as a team. Similarly, [Treasury] Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin has levied economic sanctions on North Korea and related entities. Countries must increasingly decide whether they will do business with North Korea or with the community of peace-loving nations. [U.N.] Ambassador [Nikki] Haley has spearheaded and achieved enormous success, passing the toughest U.N. sanctions to date on North Korea. General [Jim] Mattis and I communicate virtually every day, and we agree that there must be the highest level of coordination between our diplomatic efforts and our military efforts. You can’t have a stronger partner than a secretary of defense who embraces diplomacy, and I hope he feels he has the partner he needs at the State Department.
And this is just the beginning of the list of partners and friends across the government who are all working for the American people. There is much to be done, and we’re just getting started.
To address a few specifics that have been erroneously reported this morning: The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain the secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post. I value the friendship and the counsel of the vice president and I admire his leadership within President Trump’s administration to address the many important agendas of President Trump, both from a foreign policy perspective and a diplomatic — I’m sorry, a domestic objective.
Let me tell you what I’ve learned about this president, whom I did not know before taking this office. He loves his country. He puts Americans and America first. He’s smart. He demands results wherever he goes, and he holds those around him accountable for whether they’ve done the job he’s asked them to do. Accountability is one of the bedrock values the president and I share.
While I’m new to Washington, I have learned that there are some who try to 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.
When I wake up in the morning, my first thoughts are about the safety of our citizens at home and abroad. There is no more important responsibility I carry with me than ensuring that Americans are safe. Providing for the security of the United States must be the number one goal of our American foreign policy. President Trump and his administration will keep moving forward as one team with one mission: doing great things for the United States of America to make America great again.
QUESTION: Is that the only thing that you consider to be erroneous in that article?
TILLERSON: I think it’s the most important element of the article, is to reaffirm my commitment to this role that President Trump’s asked me to serve, and to dispel with this notion that I have ever considered leaving. I have answered that question repeatedly; for some reason, it continues to be misreported. There has never been a consideration in my mind to leave. 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.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you agree with Secretary Mattis that the United States should stay in the JCPOA?
TILLERSON: We’ll have a recommendation for the president. We’re going to give him a couple of options of how to move forward to advance the important policy towards Iran. As you’ve heard us say many times, the JCPOA represents only a small part of the many issues that we need to deal with when it comes to the Iranian relationship. So it is an important part of that, but is not the only part. And I’ve said many times we cannot let the Iranian relationship be defined solely by that nuclear agreement.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary —
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary —
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you have a reliable partner in Pakistan?
QUESTION: Could you address the main headline of the story, that you called the president a moron? And if not, where do you think these reports —
TILLERSON: I’m just — I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that. I mean, this is what I don’t understand about Washington. Again, I’m not from this place, but the places I come from, we don’t deal with that kind of petty nonsense. And it is intended to do nothing but divide people. And I’m just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, did you speak with the president about the report and did he ask you to make a statement, or is —
TILLERSON: I have not spoken to the president this morning. I think he’s on his way to Las Vegas, is my understanding.
QUESTION: Secretary, do you have a partner in Islamabad? You just had the foreign minister. Do you have a reliable partner in Pakistan now after meeting the foreign minister of Pakistan earlier today?
TILLERSON: Yes, I believe we do. I think the Pakistan — it’s very — the Pakistan relationship and the U.S. relationship is extraordinarily important regionally. And as we rolled out the South Asia strategy, we spoke about it in a regional context. It is not just about Afghanistan. This is about the importance of Pakistan, and Pakistan’s long-term stability as well. We have concerns about the future of Pakistan’s government too, in terms of them — we want their government to be stable. We want it to be peaceful. And many of the same issues they’re struggling with inside of Pakistan are our issues. So we think there is opportunity for us to strengthen that relationship. We’re going to be working very hard at all levels, from the State Department to the Defense Department to our intelligence communities, as well as economic, commerce opportunities as well. So it really is a regional approach, and Pakistan is critical, I think, to the long-term stability of the region.
Thank you very much.