WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday called former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell” a day after the former diplomat said he had warned the president against doing things that would violate the law.
“Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Trump fired Tillerson in March after a series of public rifts over North Korea, Russia and Iran policy, dismissing the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief executive in a tweet. In addition to policy disputes, relations were strained by reports that Tillerson privately called Trump a “moron.”
Tillerson, who was fired in March, made no attempt to deny his poor relationship with Trump during a rare interview Thursday night as part of a charity dinner in his native Texas.
“I think part of it was obviously we are starkly different in our styles. We did not have a common value system,” Tillerson told veteran journalist Bob Schieffer of CBS News, which broadcast an excerpt of the interview.
In the interview, Tillerson described Trump as “pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports … doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things.”
Asked how his relationship with Trump had gone off the rails, Tillerson said it might have been the result of his telling the president that he could not do certain things because they were illegal or would violate U.S. treaties.
“I’d have to say to him, well Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law, it violates treaty,” Tillerson said. “You know, he got really frustrated. I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day that told him you can’t do that and let’s talk about what we can do.”
Tillerson had no government experience and had never met Trump when his nomination was promoted by Republican Party insiders, who hoped for a stable figure who could nonetheless appeal to the tycoon-turned-president with his outsider status and business background.
But Tillerson immediately struggled to fit in, focusing on internal State Department streamlining rather than broader foreign policy goals and avoiding the press as his rapport frayed with Trump.
“It was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented ExxonMobil Corp. to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things,” Tillerson said at the event in Houston.
Trump is proudly anti-intellectual, saying that he succeeds by following his instincts and knows better than experts.
Asked about his reading habits in an interview shortly after taking office, Trump said he was “looking at a book” but was distracted by phone calls every time he tried to get started.
When he selected him, Trump offered a vastly different assessment of Tillerson than on Friday, saying his “tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics” made him an “excellent choice.”
But it quickly became clear that the two had little chemistry. Just as Tillerson was visiting Asia last year and speaking of lines of communication with North Korea, Trump tweeted that he was “wasting his time.”
Pompeo has faced no such backlash from Trump and has traveled four times to Pyongyang.
Trump also used Twitter to announce Tillerson’s firing and, in a final indignity, the White House made it known that the nation’s top diplomat was on the toilet when he learned the news.