In a surprise statement to the press on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson unequivocally denied an explosive NBC News report suggesting that he "was on the verge of resigning" in July after President Donald Trump delivered his bizarre Boy Scouts speech, but he refused to confirm or deny another central component of NBC's report—that he called President Donald Trump a "fucking moron."
"I'm not going to deal with petty stuff like that," Tillerson said, adding that he wouldn't be "be part of" anything intended to sow "division." He then reaffirmed his commitment to Trump, calling him "smart" and praising his "America First" agenda.
Reporter: The report says you called Trump a "moron"— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) October 4, 2017
Tillerson: "I'm not going to deal with petty stuff like that" https://t.co/lPeEu8NPvl
One source told CNN that Trump was aware that Tillerson called him a "moron," but it is unclear whether the two ever directly discussed the matter.
In an afternoon press conference, State Department spokesperson Heather Naurt, asked specifically about the "moron" comment and his earlier non-denial, told reporters that Tillerson "doesn't use that type of language" and then stated flatly that he "did not say that" about the president.*
According to NBC, a "pep talk" from Vice President Mike Pence—as well as persistent begging by Defense Secretary James Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly—ultimately convinced Tillerson to stay on board. Tillerson, in his remarks, denied that he has ever considered resigning or that Pence cajoled him to remain.
In addition to numerous other policy disputes, Tillerson complained in particular "about being publicly undermined by the president on the administration's foreign policy agenda," NBC reported Wednesday.
Watch Tillerson's full statement:
Update*: This piece has been updated to include later comments by a spokesperson for the State Department.