Overnight Defense: Fears rise over Trump-Putin summit | McCain presses Trump to hold Putin 'accountable' for hacking | Pentagon does damage control after NATO meet
Overnight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses 'total confidence' in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad
THE TOPLINE: Questions swirled Wednesday around Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after a report claimed he was close to quitting over the summer and had called President Trump a "moron."
NBC News reported Wednesday morning that Vice President Pence had to talk Tillerson out of quitting after a number of policy disputes and clashes between the secretary and Trump.
Among those was an incident in July in which Tillerson reportedly called Trump a "moron" after a Pentagon briefing.
NBC's story cited dozen current and former senior administration officials, as well as others who are close to the president.
But Tillerson on Wednesday denied he ever considered quitting.
"The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of State because I have never considered leaving," he said at the State Department.
At the presser, Tillerson was asked if he called Trump a moron. He responded that he did not want to "deal with petty stuff like that."
Later in the day, the State Department did more clean up, with department spokeswoman Heather Nauert denying that Tillerson called Trump a moron.
"The secretary does not use that type of language," Nauert said during a press briefing. "The secretary did not use that type of language to speak about the president of the United States. He does not use that language to speak about anyone."
TRUMP SAYS HE HAS 'TOTAL CONFIDENCE' IN TILLERSON: For his part, Trump responded to the report by saying he has "total confidence" in Tillerson.
Via The Hill's Jonathan Easley:
Speaking to reporters at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nev., where Trump had just met with victims of Sunday night's mass shooting, Trump ripped NBC News for reporting that Tillerson had mulled resigning and expressed "total confidence" in his secretary of State.
"It was fake news," Trump said. "It was a totally a phony story ... It was made up. It was made up by NBC. They just made it up."
"Total confidence in Rex. I have total confidence," he added.
Trump also bashed NBC on Twitter and demanded the network apologize for the report. Read about the tweets here.
CORKER SAYS TILLERSON, MATTIS, KELLY PROTECTING FROM 'CHAOS': In responding to the Tillerson news, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Wednesday accused members of the Trump administration of not supporting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, adding that Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly are protecting the country from "chaos."
Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had no firsthand knowledge of whether the reports are true. But he said he supports Tillerson, whom he described as being in a "frustrating" situation.
"I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and chief of staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos," Corker told reporters. "And I support him very much, and I don't know what he may have said after the briefing. I watch, and I see what's happening, and I deal with people throughout the administration, and he, from my perspective, he is in an incredibly frustrating place, where as I watch, and I can watch very closely on many occasions, he ends up not being supported in a way that I would a hope a secretary of State would be supported, and that's just from my vantage point."
RUBIO DEMANDS ARMY KICK OUT WEST POINT GRAD: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is demanding the Army kick out the West Point graduate whose pro-communist social media posts are under investigation.
In a letter to acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, Rubio questioned how someone with the officer's social media history received a commission and said the Army should immediately nullify the commission and pursue all available disciplinary options under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
"While I strongly believe academic institutions must respect the exchange of ideas and allow students to voice their opinions, members of the military who harbor anti-American views and express their desire to harm our country and its leaders are unfit to serve and defend our nation--and certainly should not enjoy the privilege of attending or graduating from an institution such as West Point, a taxpayer-funded military academy," Rubio wrote.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:
The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hear from State Department officials on the U.S. response to the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar at 9 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. http://bit.ly/2fE8v5F
The Heritage Foundation will release its fourth annual "Index of U.S. Military Strength" at 9 a.m. with a keynote address from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). Via Heritage: "The Index, cited by then-candidate Trump as the roadmap for rebuilding the U.S. military, is a one-of-a-kind, comprehensive assessment of the evolving threats facing the United States, and the military's ability to adequately defend the nation." Livestream: http://bit.ly/2y2dFze
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