Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson said Thursday night that his relationship with President Donald Trump grew tense after he repeatedly told the chief executive that many of the things he was asking him to do were illegal.
“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, in his first public remarks about his truncated tenure since Trump summarily fired him by tweet in March.
“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.
Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, did not offer any specific examples of which requests he deemed illegal. He said he offered to work to change the law, but that apparently did not curb Trump’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 Mike Pence invited Tillerson to the White House. At the end of his meeting with Trump, Tillerson said, he was offered the job as the nation’s top diplomat.
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 was elected 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, Tillerson learned of his dismissal through a tweet in which Trump congratulated his new pick for the job, Mike Pompeo, and concluded with a breezy, “Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service!”