People worried when Donald Trump nominated the former the CEO of Exxon Mobil Rex Tillerson to serve on his cabinet as of secretary of State. After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin had given him the highest civilian award in his country, the Order of Friendship for his “significant contribution to strengthening cooperation in the energy sector,” according to Reuters. Later, we discovered that Putin had recommended Tillerson to Trump. It turns out our worries were misplaced. Tillerson just told us who we should worry about.
Tillerson testified in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee for seven hours and blew some Trump family secrets wide open. Still, he maintained a professional dignity. When he was asked about calling Trump “a moron,” he declined to respond. In the newly released redacted transcript of his testimony, the former secretary of state had this to say about the president’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner.
It appeared Kushner worked as a very powerful satellite to the commander-in-chief and completely autonomous from Tillerson. The president’s son-in-law met independently with world leaders, developed U.S. policies, and handled hot crises. That was a secretary of State’s job, but Kushner did not even extend the former CEO the courtesy of a heads-up.
During his testimony to the committee, the former Exxon CEO explained how difficult it was to work with a president who ignored briefing papers and was easily distracted:
‘I learned to be much more concise with what I wanted to bring in front of him.
Tillerson noted that Trump was never interested in details or even articles on the subjects of great international interest:
‘That’s just not what he was going to do.’
After leading one of the biggest international companies in the world, Tillerson was stunned when he arrived at the State Department. He said that many of the career diplomats were in the dark about their own authority and responsibilities under the Trump administration.
Many times, Tillerson was caught off-guard by Kushner circumventing the state department. In one situation, the former secretary of state found out that the son-in-law was meeting with Mexico’s foreign secretary about a secret “fairly comprehensive plan of action.” The two men were coincidentally at the same D.C. restaurant:
‘”The owner of the restaurant … came around and said: ‘Oh, Mr. Secretary, you might be interested to know the Foreign Secretary of Mexico is seated at a table near the back in case you want to go by and say hello to him”‘ And so I did.’
Tillerson said he saw the foreign secretary’s face go ashen:
‘I said: Welcome to Washington …. Give me a call next time you’re coming to town.’
Another time, the former energy executive said, there was a 2017 Gulf crisis when several key Arab allies decided to stop doing business with Qatar, where the U.S. has a pivotal military base. Tillerson was in Australia with former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis:
‘I was surprised.’
He had no idea that Kushner had been having meetings with these Arab leaders. One of those meetings was with former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon and rulers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. Committee staff asked Tillerson:
‘What’s your reaction to a meeting of that sort having taken place without your knowledge? It makes me angry. Because I didn’t have a say. The State Department’s views were never expressed.’
That was when the secretary of state requested that Kushner quit these private overseas trips without notifying him. The question arises though: what was Kushner doing that kept him from telling the real secretary of state about them? Tillerson said:
“On occasion the president’s senior adviser would make trips abroad and . . . was in charge of his own agenda. I thought: This is nuts. I mean, this is crazy. You couldn’t run a corner gas station that way.’
When Tillerson told Kushner to keep him apprised of his actions, Kushner always said he “would try to do better. (But) not much changed.” Then, the then-secretary of state said that it made things hard. People were simply not on the “same playbook.”
One of the administration’s officials at Tillerson’s hearing defended Kushner:
‘Jared and the White House were coordinating with the State Department, the problem is that Rex Tillerson couldn’t figure out how to coordinate with the State Department. ‘
Then, the former secretary detailed a two-hour meeting with Putin. They discussed the challenges the two countries faced, and that “included (the 2016) election interference.” He told the Russian president that caused “huge challenges for us here in Washington.” After Tillerson brought up the election, Putin denied any Russian interference, but the secretary did not believe the Russian president:
‘I wasn’t expecting mea culpas. I wasn’t expecting him to prostrate himself and say you got me, but it was important… I’ve known this guy a long time. I’ve dealt with him a long time, and one thing I know he respects is people speaking the truth to him. Whether he acknowledges that truth or not, that’s his choice; but he respects people who speak the truth to him and that they stick with it. That’s what he respects.’
The White House did not want to talk about it.
The Mueller Report Adventures: In Bite-Sizes on this Facebook page. These quick, two-minute reads interpret the report in normal English for busy people. Mueller Bite-Sizes uncovers what is essentially a compelling spy mystery. Interestingly enough, Mueller Bite-Sizes can be read in any order.