President Donald Trump, after he publicly questioned his secretary of state’s intelligence, said Tuesday that he has confidence in Rex Tillerson.
“Yes,” Trump said when asked by a reporter whether he has confidence in the former oil executive.
Trump’s relationship with Tillerson has been especially strained since reports that the secretary of state called the President a “moron” at a meeting at the Pentagon earlier this year. Trump and Tillerson met in the Oval Office on Friday, sources tell CNN, and are meeting twice Tuesday as their public feud continues.
Trump, clearly scorned by reports of Tillerson’s comments, told Forbes in an interview released Tuesday that he has a higher IQ than his secretary of state.
“I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests,” Trump said. “And I can tell you who is going to win.”
Trump said Tuesday during a meeting with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that he didn’t think he undercut Tillerson with his comment about his intelligence.
“No, I didn’t undercut anybody,” Trump said. “I don’t believe in undercutting people.”
The public back and forth has laid bare the fraught Trump-Tillerson relationship, making Tuesday’s meetings possibly high stakes – if not awkward – affairs.
A senior State Department official said Friday’s meeting was last-minute and was related to the Middle East. The “moron” issue was not addressed, according to this official.
Tillerson and Trump were set to meet Tuesday morning, in addition to their scheduled lunch with Defense Secretary James Mattis, alongside other national security officials to discuss Iran, North Korea and other issues, according to this State Department official.
The lunch came a week after NBC, CNN and other news outlets reported that Tillerson had referred to the President as a “moron” at the Pentagon this summer. Trump publicly slammed the reports as “fake news,” and Tillerson told reporters that he remains committed to the President. But the secretary of state notably did not deny calling the President a “moron” and privately, sources tell CNN, Trump fumed at his secretary of state’s comment.
Trump’s latest comment underscores the volatility of the Trump-Tillerson relationship, despite the fact that the secretary of state told reporters last week that he plans to stay in the administration as long as the President will have him.
Though the uneasy relationship continues, it is unlikely – for now – that Tillerson will leave, sources have told CNN, because the President and his top aides are aware of the perception that they are shedding top staff at an unnerving clip.
Tom Price, Trump’s first Health and Human Services secretary, resigned in late September over a private plane scandal, and since becoming President, Trump has dismissed several top communication aides, a chief of staff and a chief strategist.