Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied reports he had contemplated resigning over the summer, disputing reports of deep tension with the president.
"The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post," Tillerson said during an impromptu statement to the media Wednesday morning.
That was an attempt to rebut a story of a near-fracture in the administration over the summer. Tillerson reportedly referred to Trump as a "moron" after a meeting with Pentagon officials in late July, then considered resigning days later after Trump's controversial speech to the Boy Scouts.
Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — now White House chief of staff — intervened to defuse the moment, according to NBC.
Tillerson described the story as example of political backstabbing. "There are some who try to sow dissension to advance their own agenda by tearing others apart in an effort to undermine president Trump's own agenda," he told reporters. "I do not and I will not operate that way and the same applies to everyone on my team here at the State Department."
The secretary declined to confirm or deny calling Trump a "moron," but repudiated the insult indirectly during his opening remarks.
"He's smart," Tillerson said of Trump. "He demands results wherever he goes, and he holds those around him accountable for whether they have done the job he has asked them to do. Accountability is one of the bedrock values the president and I share."
The report cited "a dozen current and former senior administration officials" as the basis of the account. "It is unclear whether Trump was told of Tillerson's outburst after the Pentagon meeting or to what extent the president was briefed on Tillerson's plan to resign earlier in the year," NBC added.
An aide to Tillerson denied the secretary had considered resigning, but demurred when asked about the former ExxonMobil CEO's meetings with Pence, Mattis, and Kelly. "[The aide] added that whenever the vice president gives advice on how processes could run more smoothly, the advice is a good thing," per NBC.
Trump signaled support for Tillerson minutes before the briefing took place."NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN," the president tweeted. "They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!"