During a January Oval Office meeting with newly appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly decried federal laws prohibiting American businesses from bribing overseas officials, saying they are being unfairly penalized. The account of Trump's complaints, to which Tillerson disagreed, was reported in a long-form profile of the secretary in this week's New Yorker.
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A Texas oilman and former head of Exxon Mobil, Tillerson never considered himself a diplomat before Trump convinced him to become America’s most powerful one. Tillerson appears to conduct himself more like a businessman in his new role, Dexter Filkins, who wrote the profile, reports.
Tillerson is now treading on very thin ice with his boss, having been quoted recently as calling Trump a “fucking moron” in front of a meeting of national-security officials in July – and Tillerson has not denied he said it.
“In February, a few weeks after Tillerson was confirmed by the Senate, he visited the Oval Office to introduce the president to a potential deputy, but Trump had something else on his mind. He began fulminating about federal laws that prohibit American businesses from bribing officials overseas; the businesses, he said, were being unfairly penalized,” writes Filkins, who also interviewed Tillerson for the piece.
Tillerson disagreed and "told Trump that America didn’t need to pay bribes - that we could bring the world up to our own standards," a source told The New Yorker.
In the piece, Tillerson is portrayed in a generally favorable light, with the real criticism reserved for his erratic boss, which said Trump does not back up Tillerson, rather undermining his attempts at diffusing disputes through diplomacy and rendering the secretary ineffective.
Tillerson "confronts an unstable world and an unstable president, who undermines his best efforts to solve problems with diplomacy," Filkins writes.
"At Exxon, Tillerson was less a visionary than a manager of an institution built long before he took over. With Trump, he appears content to manage the decline of the State Department and of America's influence abroad, in the hope of keeping his boss' tendency toward entropy and conflict from producing catastrophic results," the report says.