Rex Tillerson refutes report that he was on verge of resigning over the summer

Last Updated Oct 5, 2017 6:25 AM EDT

Is Rex Tillerson resigning?

No, he isn't: "I have never considered leaving this post," Tillerson said. 


In abruptly scheduled remarks, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday refuted a report that said he had been on the verge of resigning from his Cabinet post over the summer.

"I have never considered leaving this post," Tillerson said about what he called an "erroneously" reported story.

The report came from NBC News and was not confirmed by CBS News. It is unusual for the secretary to make a public statement about press reports -- in the past, CBS News' Kylie Atwood points out, Tillerson has ignored negative media reports. While he said during his statement that he did not speak with President Trump, a State Department official acknowledged that the president was angry about the report.

Tillerson stated that Vice President Mike Pence has never had to persuade him to remain America's top diplomat, which NBC had also reported.  

And NBC also reported that Tillerson had called President Trump a "moron."  Asked to respond to that part of the story, the secretary of State replied, "I'm not going to deal with petty stuff like that," though he did not deny that he said it.

While President Trump traveled to Las Vegas, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that the president continues to have confidence in Tillerson, and if he didn't, Tillerson would not still be secretary of State.

Tillerson spent the first few minutes touting what he described as progress by the Trump administration on certain foreign policy issues like imposing economic sanctions on North Korea and targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) whose caliphate, he said, is "on the brink of being completely extinguished."

"What we have accomplished we have done as a team," he said, praising the work of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

He then went on to say that Mr. Trump "loves his country," puts America first and called him "smart." Tillerson said that the president "demands results" and holds people accountable.

"My commitment to the success of our president and this country is as strong as it was the day that I accepted his offer to serve as secretary of state," he asserted. 

Just minutes before Tillerson's remarks, Mr. Trump tweeted that NBC News is "fake news."

Dan Scavino Jr., the director of social media at the White House, who sometimes tweets from the president's account, tweeted the exact comment that Mr. Trump's Twitter account made at the same time, then deleted it.

The president later tweeted a that NBC News should apologize to America for its report.

Later in the day, in remarks after meeting with victims of the Las Vegas shooting, he said he has "total confidence" in Tillerson.

This comes after President Trump undercut Tillerson in a tweet on Sunday, saying that America's top diplomat "is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," referring to North Korea leader Kim Jong Un. Mr. Trump made the comment even after top administration officials have emphasized that their top priority is to figure out a diplomatic route to dismantling its nuclear program. In another tweet Sunday, Mr. Trump encouraged Tillerson to "save your energy," adding "we'll do what has to be done!"

Tillerson has a vocal supporter in the Capitol: Sen. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker. "I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos," Corker told reporters Wednesday, according to Politico. Corker went on to say that Tillerson is stuck in an "incredibly frustrating place" and he "ends up not being supported in the way I would hope a secretary of state would be supported."

CBS News' Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.

 

  • Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.