Rex Tillerson, who was abruptly fired by Donald Trump just 12 hours after he spoke out against Russian involvement in the poisoning of an ex-spy in the United Kingdom, was almost as abruptly scheduled to make an on-camera statement at 2 PM ET. Tillerson looked and sounded like a man who has just been publicly fired without warning, looking down at his notes and at times breathing heavily. And what he didn’t say was perhaps more significant than what he did: though he didn’t criticize or directly contradict Trump, he also didn’t load things up with kind words about Trump even a little bit.
He opened by saying that he had received a call from Trump at noon today—which is to say, hours after he was publicly fired—and that he would be turning over his duties to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan at the end of the day today, though his official last day will be on March 31.
Tillerson used much of his statement, though, to address State Department employees, saying “we are all bound by that common commitment, to support and defend the Constitution, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same … We remain steadfast here in Washington and in posts across the world.” To listen to him, you wouldn’t know that for all of his disagreements with Trump, Tillerson had presided over a hollowing out of the State Department’s ranks.
Addressing several trouble spots in U.S. foreign relations around the world, Tillerson didn’t steer entirely clear from Russia, but neither did he address the UK nerve agent attack, saying “Much work remains to respond to the troubling behavior and actions on the part of the Russian government. Russia must assess carefully as to how its actions are in the best interest of the Russian people, and of the world more broadly. Continuing on their current trajectory is likely to lead to greater isolation on their part, a situation which is not in anyone’s interest.”
This statement, which didn’t address the circumstances of his firing, came amid conflicting reports. The White House initially claimed Tillerson had been fired on Friday, only to have a Tillerson aide tell reporters that he had learned of his own firing the same way the public did: through Trump’s tweet. At that point, the White House fired the Tillerson aide but also walked its story back a little, claiming that Tillerson had been warned by White House chief of staff John Kelly that he should return from a trip to Africa earlier than planned because “you may get a tweet.” Tillerson’s silence on this point, just speaking of a call with Trump after his public firing, seems to stand as an indictment of the White House’s changing stories.
And in closing, Tillerson said “God bless all of you, God bless the American people, God bless America.” No mention of the man who first made him secretary of state and then fired him.