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politics

Five Questions About Rex Tillerson's Bizarre Press Conference

The secretary of state didn't deny the report that alleged he called his boss a "moron."

by Eve Peyser
Oct 4 2017, 6:35pm

Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump in happier times, as the new secretary of state signs an affidavit after being sworn in. Photo: Pool/Getty Images

After NBC News published a story claiming that Rex Tillerson called Donald Trump a "moron" and contemplated quitting before being talked out of it by Vice President Mike Pence, the secretary of state held a surprise press conference Wednesday morning to address the report. It was odd in many ways: While he said he "never considered leaving this post" and called his boss "smart," he avoided denying he described Trump as a moron. And the fact that he took the unusual step of devoting an entire press conference to rebutting a single article speaks to how seriously he took the NBC News story—or how nervous he is about Trump's response to it.

Naturally, I have questions, and because I don't have Tillerson in the room with me right now, I guess I'll just ask them here:

How the hell have you never considered leaving your post?

Rex, you said in March, "I didn't want this job. I didn't seek this job," and that you only accepted the position after your wife urged you to. Since then, it's not like the gig has grown more attractive.

Did you not consider quitting when Michael Flynn resigned 25 days into his tenure after it came to light that the national security adviser had withheld information from Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador? Or when your boss unceremoniously fired James Comey because, as Trump himself said, "This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story"? Or when Trump announced Anthony Scaramucci would come on as communications director?

Could have you at least have entertained the thought when White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned, or when chief of staff Reince Preibus finally parted ways with the administration, both in response to Scaramucci's hiring? Or when new chief of staff John Kelly removed Scaramucci from his post before his official first day of work?

What about when Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka stepped down? Or when Tom Price left amid a growing scandal involving his private jet usage, you didn't think, maybe I should get out of here?

Did your knowledge of Robert Mueller's probe into your boss and colleagues' potential connections to Russia cause you reconsider all the decisions you made to get where you are?

After the president publicly derailed your efforts to assuage the North Korea mess he created, by tweeting, "I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man. Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!" did you not at least consider saying goodbye to all that?

Speaking of Trump being unbelievably dumb, when you were asked if you called the president a moron, you evaded the question, telling reporters, "I won't deal with petty stuff like that." Which brings me to my second question:

Why won't you address "petty stuff like that"?

Donald Trump stands to be the pettiest president in modern US history, more interested in tweeting childish insults at his enemies than actually governing. Since your boss is exclusively interested in "petty stuff like that," why not talk specifically about whether you called him a moron? Instead, you said:

The places I come from, we don't deal with that kind of petty nonsense and it's intended to do nothing but divide people. And I'm not going to be part of this effort to divide the administration.

That's a bit of a cop out, right? It also brings me to my third question:

Who do you think is dividing the administration?

One answer is NBC News itself, but despite your boss's claims about "fake news," the report obviously had sources behind it who were interested in making you look bad or getting Trump pissed at you. Why would they have that motive? And do you think that Trump himself, with his habit of insulting his own staff on social media, is hurting the administration?

When a reporter asked you whether you discussed the report with Trump, and if he asked you to make this statement, you said, "I have not spoken to the president this morning," which brings me to my fourth question:

Why are you bad at evading questions?

Many reporters and pundits noticed you seemed a little uncomfortable at your lectern, and suggested that the president did in fact put you up to this, although not necessarily willingly:

Speaking of evading questions, although you didn't deny calling Trump a moron, you still made sure to assert, "He's smart." Which brings me to my final question:

Do you actually think anyone is going to buy that you believe that Trump is smart?

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