Tillerson says he tries daily to earn Trump's confidence

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday that he must earn President Trump’s confidence “every day,” after Trump apparently lost confidence in FBI Director James Comey and fired him.

“I am devoted to helping the president achieve his objectives, helping him be successful,” Tillerson told NBC’s “Meet the Press." “And I understand I have to earn his confidence every day with how I go about those affairs and how I go about conducting the State Department's activities consistent with the direction he wants to take the country.”

Tillerson also answered what has emerged as a litmus test question about administration officials’ allegiance to Trump and country, after Trump reportedly demanded a loyalty pledge from Comey.

“I will never compromise my own values,” Tillerson told NBC. “That's my only line. And my values are those of the country.”


Trump was reported to have asked Comey for the pledge over dinner shortly after he took office in late-January. However, the president on Saturday denied the report.

“No, I didn’t. But I don’t think it would be a bad question to ask," he told Fox News’ “Justice with Judge Jeanine.”

The White House has said Trump’s confidence in Comey had eroded before the FBI director was ousted Tuesday.

Tillerson also told NBC News that Trump is assessing whether moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would help or hurt prospects for clinching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Since taking office, Trump has backed away from his campaign pledge to move the embassy in a gesture to Israel, instead saying he's still studying the issue.

But Tillerson linked Trump's deliberations directly to his aspirations for brokering Mideast peace.

"The president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact the peace process," he said.

Tillerson said Trump first wants feedback from all sides, including whether Israel views such a move as helpful to a peace initiative “or perhaps a distraction."

Trump departs Friday on his first foreign trip. After stopping in Saudi Arabia, the president will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories, in a nod to his nascent bid to strike the Israeli-Palestinian deal that has eluded his predecessors.

Jerusalem's status is one of the most emotionally charged issues in the conflict, with both sides laying claims. Israel captured east Jerusalem -- claimed by Palestinians for the capital of a future independent state -- from Jordan in 1967 and annexed it, a move not internationally recognized.

U.S. presidents of both parties have repeatedly waived a U.S. law requiring the embassy be moved to Jerusalem. The most recent waiver -- signed by former President Barack Obama -- expires on June 1. Trump is expected to sign a six-month renewal of the waiver before it expires, as he continues deliberating.

Palestinians argue moving the embassy would prejudice one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict and undermine America's status as an effective mediator. There have been some signs that the Israeli government, while publicly supportive of moving the embassy, has quietly raised concerns that doing so could enflame the political and security situation.

In a statement to the media Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that moving the embassy would be good for peace.

"Israel's position has been stated many times to the American government and to the world," he said.

There was no immediate Palestinian reaction.

Tillerson also downplayed suggestions that the U.S. needed to deal decisively with Russia's interference in the U.S. election before it could pursue better relations with Moscow. Though Tillerson said he'd seen the intelligence implicating Russia and believed there was no question Russia meddled, he said it was just one of a "broad range of important issues that have to be addressed in the U.S.-Russia relationship."

He said the notion of a "reset" with Russia -- which both Obama and President George W. Bush pursued -- was misguided.

"You cannot erase the past,” he said. “You cannot start with a clean slate," Tillerson said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.