Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphatically denied a new report that said he considered resigning his post but did not deny he once called President Donald Trump a "moron" during an impromptu press conference on Wednesday.
"There's never been a consideration in my mind to leave," Tillerson said. "I serve at the appointment of the president, and I am here for as long as the president feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives."
NBC News reported Wednesday that Tillerson had come close to resigning this summer before Vice President Mike Pence intervened, and that Tillerson called Trump a "moron" after a meeting at the Pentagon. However, in a previously unscheduled statement, Tillerson said he had "never considered leaving" the post and called the report "erroneous."
"My commitment to the success of our president and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as secretary of state," Tillerson said.
Tillerson praised Trump's "America First" foreign and domestic policy initiatives, hailing achievements in putting pressure on North Korea's nuclear program, Trump's call for Muslim-majority nations to assume new responsibilities in stopping terrorism, and NATO members contributing more to their security.
"There is much to be done, and we're just getting started," Tillerson said.
Tillerson also showered praise on Trump as a smart and capable leader who puts Americans first.
"He loves his country," Tillerson said. "He puts Americans and America first. He's smart. He demands results wherever he goes, and he holds those around him accountable for whether they've done the job he's asked them to do."
Tillerson said he had learned people in Washington seek to "sow dissension" to undermine the White House and advance their own agenda but he would not conduct himself that way.
Asked specifically about the report that he called Trump a "moron," however, Tillerson did not deny it, saying he wouldn't deal with "petty stuff like that."
"This is what I don't understand about Washington," he said. "Again, I'm not from this place, but the places I come from, we don't deal with that kind of petty nonsense, and it is intended to do nothing but divide people, and I'm just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration."
Trump tweeted shortly afterward that NBC News should issue an apology for the "fake news" story.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2017
The Washington Free Beacon has previously reported on tensions between the State Department and the White House, including on issues of filling job vacancies within the agency:
The State Department and White House have been in continuous gridlock over the last several months, as top officials under the secretary of state have ignored White House directives on various policy matters, including critical staffing issues.
Multiple sources told the Washington Free Beacon the White House had sent multiple lists of potential candidates for job vacancies at that the State Department, but senior aides to Tillerson had ignored and trashed the lists, which they claim has elevated the roles of former Obama administration officials who still work in the department.
"Those lists [of candidates] literally go nowhere," according to one veteran Republican foreign policy operative familiar with the situation. "It's like a sham process. And the reason is not because the White House isn't behaving professionally. It's because Tillerson isn't professional at all."
UPDATE: 11:45 A.M.: This story was updated with Trump's tweet following Tillerson's remarks.