Old foes:

Fired sec­re­tary of state says Trump of­ten asked him to take il­le­gal ac­tions

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY CAROL MORELLO

Rex Tiller­son crit­i­cizes Trump, who re­sponds in kind.

Ab­sence does not make the heart grow fonder when it comes to Pres­i­dent Trump and his first sec­re­tary of state, Rex Tiller­son.

Nine months af­ter Trump sum­mar­ily dis­missed his top diplo­mat by tweet, Trump and Tiller­son were back to bick­er­ing as they traded ac­cu­sa­tions in a re­la­tion­ship that at turns has been icy and blis­ter­ing.

Af­ter Tiller­son pub­licly said their en­coun­ters grew rocky over Trump’s di­rec­tives to do things that were il­le­gal, Trump hit back in a tweet in which he branded Tiller­son “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.”

The bit­ing re­tort came af­ter Tiller­son made his first pub­lic re­marks about Trump dur­ing an ap­pear­ance Thurs­day night at a char­ity event in Texas, where Tiller­son has re­tired to his ranch.

“So of­ten, the pres­i­dent would say, ‘Here’s what I want you to do, and here’s how I want you to do it,’ ” Tiller­son said at a fundraiser for the MD An­der­son Cancer Cen­ter in Hous­ton.

“And I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. Pres­i­dent, I un­der­stand what you want to do. But you can’t do it that way. It vi­o­lates the law,’ ” he said.

As if to con­firm how toxic their in­ter­ac­tions had be­come, Trump praised Tiller­son’s suc­ces­sor, Mike Pom­peo, and then dis­missed the abil­i­ties of Tiller­son, who ran Exxon Mo­bil be­fore step­ping down to work for Trump.

“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’s judg­ment on Tiller­son was the po­lar op­po­site when he nom­i­nated him, prais­ing him in De­cem­ber 2016 as a “world-class player” who made “mas­sive deals” while CEO of a mam­moth oil com­pany.

But the hon­ey­moon was short­lived.

Tiller­son pri­vately fought against many of the bud­get cuts the White House en­forced on him, writ­ing let­ters in which he ar­gued for more time to down­size and re­form the depart­ment’s struc­ture. But ul­ti­mately he slashed staffing, which con­trib­uted to low morale as vet­eran diplo­mats were shown the door or made to feel un­wel­come and un­val­ued.

The two men also had starkly dif­fer­ent world­views that man­i­fested in dif­fer­ences over for­eign pol­icy.

Tiller­son of­ten said he woke up ev­ery morn­ing wor­ry­ing that a State Depart­ment em­ployee would be harmed on his watch. That but­tressed his con­vic­tion not to rush mov­ing the U.S. Em­bassy in Is­rael from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, say­ing it would take years to build a fa­cil­ity to ad­e­quately meet all the se­cu­rity needs of the work­ers. Trump wanted the re­lo­ca­tion to take place much faster, and a small mis­sion opened in East Jerusalem in May, about six weeks af­ter Tiller­son was canned.

But be­fore he even com­pleted his first year, the rifts were spilling into pub­lic view.

Af­ter a news re­port that he had called Trump a “mo­ron” — with an ex­ple­tive as an ad­jec­tive — at the end of a meet­ing at the Pen­tagon, Tiller­son re­fused to di­rectly deny hav­ing said it. He de­flected ques­tions about the re­mark as “petty” and turned it into a moral judg­ment on Wash­ing­ton, which he char­ac­ter­ized as “a town that seems to rel­ish in gos­sip, ru­mor and in­nu­endo.”

Since he was dis­missed, Tiller­son pre­vi­ously had avoided any di­rect re­buke of his for­mer boss. The clos­est he came to crit­i­ciz­ing Trump was dur­ing a com­mence­ment speech he made at Vir­ginia Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute in which he lamented “a grow­ing cri­sis of ethics and in­tegrity” and said truth was “the essence of free­dom.”

In his re­marks in Hous­ton on Thurs­day, Tiller­son did not of­fer any spe­cific ex­am­ples of the Trump di­rec­tives he deemed il­le­gal. He said he of­fered to work to change the law, but that ap­par­ently did not curb the pres­i­dent’s frus­tra­tion.

“I’d say, ‘Here’s what we can do,’ ” Tiller­son said. “‘We can go back to Congress and get this law changed. And if that’s what you want to do, there’s noth­ing wrong with that.’ I told him, ‘I’m ready to go up there and fight the fight, if that’s what you want to do.’ ”

Tiller­son noted that he had never met Trump be­fore Vice Pres­i­dent Pence in­vited him to the White House. At the end of his meet­ing with Trump, Tiller­son said, he was of­fered the job.

Tiller­son, who as sec­re­tary of state carved hours out of his daily sched­ule to read briefing pa­pers, said Trump didn’t read and was undis­ci­plined.

Tiller­son also took a swipe at Twit­ter — not the pres­i­dent’s use of it, but the short at­ten­tion span it has helped en­gen­der in many Amer­i­cans.

Say­ing Trump won of­fice us­ing mod­ern-day tools to tap into strong emo­tions, he added: “I will be hon­est with you. It trou­bles me that the Amer­i­can peo­ple seem to want to know so lit­tle about is­sues that they are sat­is­fied with 128 char­ac­ters.

“I don’t want that to come across as a crit­i­cism of him. It’s re­ally a con­cern I have about us as Amer­i­cans, and us as a so­ci­ety, and us as cit­i­zens.”

Tiller­son was fired a few hours af­ter re­turn­ing from a trip to Africa. Though he had been fore­warned that Trump was un­happy with him, he learned of his dis­missal through a tweet in which Trump con­grat­u­lated Pom­peo and con­cluded with a breezy, “Thank you to Rex Tiller­son for his ser­vice!”

Tiller­son could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment.

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