Timeline: Tillerson's rocky relationship with Trump

Timeline: Tillerson's rocky relationship with Trump

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE’s removal of Rex Tillerson as secretary of State ends an often-rocky tenure for the nation's top diplomat, who might be remembered best for reportedly referring to his boss as a “moron.”

While that was his most memorable clash with Trump, it was far from the only one.


The former Exxon Mobile Corp. chief never completely gelled with the president or his department, and often seemed on the outside looking in when it came to major decisions.

Here’s a timeline of Tillerson’s less than 14 months as leader of the State Department.

Feb. 1, 2017: Tillerson is confirmed

Tillerson’s nomination drew scrutiny from Democrats, who expressed unease during his confirmation battle over how an energy executive with ties to Russia and other foreign governments would shape Trump’s “America First” approach to international relations.

Nonetheless, the Senate voted to confirm Tillerson in a 56-43 vote — with Democratic Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerRussians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit Top Senate Dem: Trump administration's lack of focus on election security an 'embarrassment' Dem senator: We need other Americans in the room with Trump, Putin MORE (Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (W.Va.) and Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingHillicon Valley: Hacker tried to sell military docs on dark web | Facebook fined over Cambridge Analytica | US closer to lifting ZTE ban | Trump, Obama lose followers in Twitter purge | DOJ weighs appeal on AT&T merger Senators press federal election officials on state cybersecurity 'Paws for Celebration' event brings rescue animals to the Capitol MORE (I-Maine) joining Republicans in voting for him.

“It’s time to bring a clear-eyed focus on foreign affairs, to take a fresh look at the world around us, and to seek new solutions grounded in very ancient truths,” Trump said at Tillerson’s swearing-in ceremony.

June 9: Trump breaks with Tillerson on Qatar

Tillerson broke with Trump after Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries cut ties with Qatar in June over what they claimed was the small gulf nation's support for terrorist groups.

He called for an end to their blockade of Qatar, which hosts more than 10,000 U.S. troops at a naval base. Trump took a harder line, praising the other nations’ decision to call Qatar out on its “extremist ideology.”

The episode marked one of the first public breaks between Trump and Tillerson and served as an early signal that the secretary of State would not always march in lockstep with the White House.

June 13: Tillerson breaks with Trump on climate

Tillerson split with Trump again — this time on climate change — at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on June 13.

The secretary said Trump should not have decided to withdraw the United States from the 195-nation Paris climate agreement, asserting that he still supported the deal despite Trump’s insistence that it would impose unfair restrictions on the U.S.

The split put into stark contrast Tillerson’s reluctance to undo what had been hailed by the Obama administration — and U.S. allies abroad — as a monumental achievement for the international community with Trump’s stated goal of shaking up international relations.

July 7: Tillerson stunned by Trump on Russia

Tillerson was the only high-level U.S. official to join Trump in a highly anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 7 on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.

Trump had repeatedly praised Putin on the campaign trail, suggesting that the two could work together to thaw increasingly icy relations despite the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Moscow had sought to disrupt and influence the 2016 presidential election — a conclusion that Trump has long bristled at.

So when Trump reportedly began that meeting by asking Putin point blank whether the Russian government had meddled in the election, Tillerson was taken aback, according to a New York Times report. He later reportedly told an associate that he was stunned by the question.

Tillerson has broken with Trump on the issue of Russia several times since then, acknowledging that Moscow had worked to sow discord and division in the presidential race.

Aug. 27: Tillerson says Trump ‘speaks for himself’ after Charlottesville

After Trump said responsibility for violence between white nationalists and those protesting them in Charlottesville, Va., lies on “many sides,” Tillerson told Fox News that “the president speaks for himself.”

The remarks likely did little to ease tensions with Trump, who is said to value loyalty among his advisers.

Oct. 1: Trump shoots down Tillerson on North Korea

Trump took a very public swipe at Tillerson’s suggestion that the U.S. have a direct line of communication with North Korea.

In an Oct. 1 tweet, Trump declared that the secretary was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man” — a nickname Trump coined for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

That tweet was an embarrassing blow to Tillerson’s credibility and escalated an already-tense standoff between the U.S. and North Korea.

Oct. 4: Tillerson calls Trump a ‘moron’

A bombshell NBC News report in October claimed that Tillerson had once referred to Trump as a “moron” after a high-level meeting at the Pentagon in July. At the same time, the report claimed that Tillerson had wrestled with the idea of resigning, until Vice President Pence convinced him otherwise.

Tillerson was quick to deny that he threatened to resign. But he was less forthcoming when he faced questions about whether he called Trump a “moron,” saying that he would not address “petty stuff like that.”

The episode prompted a challenge from Trump, who dismissed the NBC report as “fake news” but suggested that he and Tillerson should compare IQ tests.

Oct. 15: Tillerson voices support for Iran deal

Tillerson pushed Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal, warning that withdrawing from the deal could pose a greater risk to national security.

After Trump, a longtime critic of the deal, moved on Oct. 13 to decertify Iran’s compliance, Tillerson took the rare step of voicing his support for the agreement in a CNN interview on Oct. 15.

The CNN appearance signaled Tillerson’s willingness to break from the president in a public venue. What’s more, Tillerson’s support for the deal remained a sticking point for Trump, who on Tuesday listed disagreements with his secretary of State over the deal as a reason for his ouster.

Nov. 30: Reports of Tillerson’s ouster emerge

A New York Times report in November, laying out a sweeping White House plan to install CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo: Talks with North Korea on returning war dead ‘productive and cooperative’ Trump: Why isn’t ‘fake news’ talking about North Korea? Trump’s arms export rules will undermine US security and risk human rights abuses MORE at State, ignited a new round of questions about Tillerson’s future.

The White House pushed back on the report, which Tillerson called “laughable.” Trump waved off the Times’s report as “fake news” and insisted that he and Tillerson worked well together.

Still, the mere prospect of Tillerson’s ouster shook foreign governments’ confidence in a secretary of State already thought to be a relative outsider in Trump’s administration.

Jan. 5: Tillerson says he plans to lead State through 2018

Tillerson entered the New Year with a proclamation that he was at the State Department to stay.

“I intend to be here for the whole year,” he told CNN in a Jan. 5 interview.

March 12: Tillerson says poisoning of ex-Russian spy will trigger response

Tillerson’s willingness to take a harder line on Russia than his boss was on full display Monday, when he told reporters that the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom “clearly came from Russia” and would “trigger a response” from the U.S.

The secretary’s comments came after British Prime Minister Theresa May declared that it was “highly likely” that Russia was behind the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, who are believed to have been poisoned with a Russian-made nerve agent.

The comments were far more aggressive than those of the White House.

March 13: Trump fires Tillerson

Tillerson’s tenure in the Trump administration came to an abrupt end on Tuesday, when Trump announced on Twitter that he intended to nominate Pompeo as his next secretary of State.

Tillerson said he was set to formally leave the department on March 31.