The Cable

Trump, Stung by ‘Moron’ Moniker, Challenges Tillerson to Compare IQs

Just your average Tuesday in the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wait for a meeting  in the White House June 30, 2017.
President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wait for a meeting in the White House June 30, 2017.

President Donald Trump slammed reports his secretary of state called him a “fucking moron” as “fake news.” But just in case it’s not, he’s hedging his bets.

In a new interview with Forbes Magazine, the president defended his intelligence and implied that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was formerly chief executive of oil giant ExxonMobil, is dumber than him.

“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.”

The president also suggested he, and not Tillerson, was to blame for all the vacant posts at the State Department over nine months into his administration.

“I’m generally not going to make a lot of the appointments that would normally be — because you don’t need them,” Trump said in the interview. “I mean, you look at some of these agencies, how massive they are, and it’s totally unnecessary. They have hundreds of thousands of people.”

Twenty-one of 23 assistant secretary of state positions remain unfilled or held by interim career officials, and 48 ambassador postings are still empty. That includes a permanent assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and an ambassador in South Korea, even as Trump threatens military action against North Korea and diplomats struggle to resolve the impasse.

The interview comes days after an NBC News report that Tillerson called Trump a moron and flirted with packing up and leaving his job over the summer until Vice President Mike Pence counseled him on how to deal with the president. (The NBC reporter later clarified that Tillerson didn’t simply call him a garden-variety moron, but the more elaborate variety.)

In a rare public address on Oct. 4, Tillerson denied the reports that he considered resigning but when asked point-blank didn’t deny insulting Trump, though the State Department spokeswoman later denied it for him.

All the while, rumors are rife about Tillerson’s pending ouster as reports pile up about his relationship with the president being broken beyond repair. CIA Director Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley are rumored as picks to replace him.

The public spat and uncertainty about Tillerson’s future are undercutting his stance on the world stage. It threatens to leave foreign leaders wondering whether it’s even worth working with Tillerson anymore, one senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“How much longer can you have this disconnect between a president and a secretary of state?” the official told Foreign Policy.

But as the drama plays out in interviews and on Twitter, most of the U.S. State Department is left in the dark.

“He could last until January, or he could be out by the end of the day,” another State Department official told FP. “At this point I think it’s nearly impossible to tell.”

Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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