Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Trump teamed up Wednesday to blast an NBC News report detailing a supposed rift between them, with the top diplomat adamantly denying that he considered resigning – and the president calling on the network to apologize.
"The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence. It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!" Trump tweeted after Tillerson rejected key details of the report in a rare response from the State Department.
The NBC News report had said Tillerson considered resigning over the summer amid disagreements with the White House.
“There’s never been a consideration in my mind,” Tillerson told reporters, in a previously unscheduled statement.
The report also said Tillerson even called Trump a “moron” this summer after a meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials. Vice President Pence reportedly got involved at the time to discuss ways to ease tensions.
Tillerson said Wednesday he would not address “petty” stuff, but said of the president, “He loves this country. He puts Americans and America first. He’s smart.”
NBC News says it is standing by the report.
Trump, en route to Las Vegas to meet with survivors of Sunday’s mass shooting, also hit back earlier Wednesday at the report.
“NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN. They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!” Trump tweeted.
When asked by reporters in Las Vegas if he had confidence in the secretary of state, Trump replied: "I have total confidence in Rex."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also told reporters on Wednesday that the president "continues to have confidence" in Tillerson and that if he didn't, Tillerson would not be in his position.
In his remarks, Tillerson denied that Pence ever had to get involved to convince him to stay.
“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. … There is much to be done, and we’re just getting started," Tillerson said. “The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post.”
A source with knowledge of the situation told Fox News that the conversations between Pence and Tillerson were more focused on getting the secretary of state back on the same page as the president, characterizing their interactions more as “counseling.”
The source told Fox News that Pence and Trump are fully in lockstep, and that the vice president continuously discusses the expectations of the president with Cabinet officials to ensure the administration is moving forward in the same direction.
Separately, Jarrod Agen, the vice president's director of communications, told Fox News in a statement Wednesday that Pence and Tillerson did not "ever discuss the prospect of the Secretary's resignation from the administration."
"Any reporting to the contrary is categorically false," Agen said.
The NBC report also had said the vice president questioned the role of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. But Agen said, "Any statements that the Vice President questioned Ambassador Nikki Haley's value to the Trump Administration is also categorically false."
When asked if Tillerson called the president a “moron,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Wednesday that he “did not use that type of language to speak about the president of the United States.” She said Trump and Tillerson spoke Wednesday, and they “are all good.”
Nauert told reporters that the secretary did not "offer an apology" because "one was not needed."
Reports of Tillerson having tensions with Trump have been circulating since this summer, around the time of Trump’s somewhat controversial speech to Boy Scouts of America in July, an organization once led by Tillerson.
Tillerson also raised eyebrows in August, following the president’s response to the violent attacks in Charlottesville, Va. In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” in August, host Chris Wallace pointedly asked Tillerson about the president’s values.
“The president speaks for himself, Chris,” Tillerson curtly replied.
Asked whether he was “separating himself” from the president’s comments, he answered, “I have spoken.”
The president has largely been mum on his relationship with Tillerson, and his performance as secretary of state. But over the weekend, he seemed to criticize Tillerson’s approach to North Korea.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”