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Tillerson Speaks Publicly For First Time Since Being Fired. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: My goodness. What a day. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Here is the heads up. We are waiting to hear from the man who President Trump fired today via Twitter, outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

[14:00:05] This is the highest level shakeup thus far, within the Trump administration. Tillerson's position is fourth in line to the presidency, and, arguably, the last job that should be disrupted as the president prepares for a promised meeting with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. And while it was certainly no secret Tillerson was on thin ice with the president, when America's top diplomat woke up this morning, he had no idea that this would be his last day on the job, according to his spokesman.

Then Tillerson saw, like the rest of the world did, this tweet from the president of the United States, saying that CIA Director Mike Pompeo was the new secretary of state and that his deputy director over at the CIA, Gina Haspel, will become the first woman to helm America's largest spy agency.

Now, the president talked about Tillerson. He did make some mention and I want to play that for you, just before heading off to California this morning.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along, actually, quite well. But we disagreed on things. When you look at the Iran deal, I think it's terrible. I guess he thought (ph) it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently. So, we were not really thinking the same.

With Mike, Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it's going to go very well.

Rex is a very good man. I like Rex a lot. I really appreciate his commitment and his service. I'll be speaking to Rex over a long period of time.


BALDWIN: So, let's begin with CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott who actually just interviews the now outgoing secretary of state just a couple of months ago.

In that sit-down, Elise, I know he told you at the time he was at least expecting to be in his job through the end of the year. Before I ask about what happened, let's look ahead in the next couple of minutes as we're waiting to hear from Rex Tillerson himself, speaking at this State Department briefing.

Do you have any idea what he might say?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think, Brooke, he wants to maybe lay out his accomplishments and speak to the American people directly. I don't think it's any secret that the secretary felt he was treated unfairly in this.

And, in fact, in our interview, I think he was sending a message to the president when he was saying I want to be here for the year. I'm staying. He was sending a message to the president if you want to bring me in and fire me, fire me. No more leaks, no more stories about my impending departure.

In the end, there were leaks about his impending departure. We understand he got calls over the weekend that this might be coming. But he certainly didn't think that it was imminent. I think you heard his comments over the weekend that perhaps he felt like he could still save his job. He was saying, I think I'm the person to advise the president as these North Korea negotiations progress. I think I'm the right person to do that.

I think he was, in effect, trying this last-ditch effort to save his job, and when he woke up this morning to get ready for work, he did not know, Brooke, that today was going to be his last day and that's why we say he read it in the president's tweets. I think he had a whip of it, but certainly, nobody told him, you're out, pack your bags.

BALDWIN: OK. Elise, stay with me, of course, as we wait to hear from Rex Tillerson himself.

I've a couple of great voices.

Jamie Rubin, let me just start with you, former assistant secretary of state, contributing editor over at "Politico". Live pictures there at the State Department.

Jamie Rubin, I mean, the fact that the secretary of state found out that he was no longer to be in that job via Twitter, what do you make of that?

JAMES RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, it shows you there was no real serious relationship between the secretary of state and the president. I think everyone who has ever worked in that job or worked for people who have worked in that job, which I have done, the relationship with the president is everything. If you're traveling around the world, meeting with world leaders, not just foreign ministers, but world leaders, they have to believe that you have the president's voice. They have to believe that you're speaking for the United States.

Tillerson hasn't had that for months. And so, people who met with him, they worked with him but always doubted whether he spoke for the president. And I think this way of him being fired was a demonstration of that.

But what I would be worried about is what the future NSC meeting is going to look like. I urge you and your viewers to think about it now. You have a meeting in which Mike Pompeo, if confirmed, first in his class at West Point. Meaning he comes with a military background.

You have General Kelly, former general. You have former General Mattis, the Defense Department. You have current General McMaster as the NSC adviser, if he survives. And then you have the real generals, the operational generals who are running our military.

[14:05:03] So, you're going to have a meeting in which a -- and I'm not saying this voice isn't important but I don't think we want our president to have only a military's point of view.


BALDWIN: You're saying diversity of thought matters? Diversity of thought?

RUBIN: Yes. And we need somebody who has some experience in diplomacy, somebody who understands that gray area between the use of force or the non-use of force. And our military will be respectful of the problem and I think it will be hard for former military or current military to stand up to the commander-in-chief. It's harder to do that if you're in the military than it is if you're a respected cabinet member who's not served in that role.


Dana, let me move to you because I think Jamie's first point just about how, for a while now, it seemed like the secretary of state and president haven't been on the same page. I made a list.

So, here's my brief list. You had, you know, what happened in Charlottesville, right, when Tillerson said the president speaks for himself, reportedly, when he called the president a moron which, by the way, to this day, Tillerson hasn't denied that, disagreed with the Israeli embassy move, disagreed on the Paris climate accord and even on, you know, North Korea. You know, Rex Tillerson has been open to talks but certainly not at the presidential level. And, you know, I could keep going.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. Look, there is no question that Jamie is right and he knows this is from firsthand experience that --


BASH: -- the job of secretary of state is absolutely all about having credibility with the people you're talking to around the globe and that they have to have confidence that you really are speaking for the president. All we have to do to know that that was not the case is look what happened last week. The North Korean dictator sent a message for the South Korean diplomat directly to the president. And, you know, our understanding was that was in part because they didn't even think to talk to the secretary of state because they didn't trust that he actually was in lockstep with the president of the United States. So, there's that.

BALDWIN: Who at the time, was multiple zones away in Africa asleep.

BASH: Well, exactly, and there's that, too.

But the other thing I want to, just to Jamie's point about having people with military backgrounds around the table, it's a really important point. However, based on what I have heard from people who have been in and around those national security meetings is that Rex Tillerson was described to me as the most prepared in the room but the least effective. So, he might not have a military background. Obviously he has a business background, which has some diplomacy in it, of course, especially when you're the CEO of Exxon, but it wasn't effective.

And so, the voices have already loudest of those coming from a military background.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Brooke, can I add something here to what Jamie is saying?

BALDWIN: Please.

BORGER: Which is nobody speaks for the president. We've learned that. Even when the president wasn't the president, he was calling up reporters, pretending to be his own spokesperson, if you'll recall.

And Rex Tillerson didn't speak with the president for the president not only because he disagreed with him, but because they didn't get along. The president considered, I'm told, Rex Tillerson arrogant. He doesn't get along with General McMaster but he doesn't think General McMaster is arrogant. General McMaster is a soldier.

So, what we are learning now is we are seeing all of this, with changes that are potentially to come, is that I think this is a newly unchained Donald Trump who believes he has found his voice after a year in office and wants people around him who will facilitate what he now believes and do it with a certain amount of deference to him.


BALDWIN: You said newly unchained? New unchained Donald Trump?

BORGER: Well, I actually think that this is the beginning of more. I don't think it's -- yes, I would say that this is in my ways sort of a symbolic -- I'm getting rid of the guy who disagreed with me, who is another alpha male, who thinks he knew more than I know and he doesn't. And I'm going to do it my way because I'm the president of the United States. RUBIN: And to Gloria's point, if you take the issues that are coming

up, Tillerson working with Mattis, which probably the reason why the United States has not yet pulled out of the Iran agreement. I think every indication now is with the new secretary of state, Pompeo, who has been vociferously denouncing that agreement and everyone else at table who will now see this as a chance to join in on that, I think there's a very tiny likelihood that we will stay in that agreement.

[14:10:03] And here's the problem -- if you're going to go into a negotiation with North Korea and the thing that you're doing at the same time is ripping up the agreement that the last president had on Iran on nuclear weapons, it's going to be very, very complicated to make an arrangement with North Koreans and have them regard you as reliable as a negotiating partner.

So, there's a lot of confusion that's coming substantively when this new balance takes over. And I think it's a new balance that will be less diplomatic and perhaps more -- whatever word you want to use -- hard line, possible use of force. And that, we're heading toward that version of Trump's foreign policy.

BALDWIN: We need to get into that but also the voice who we haven't heard from, Tom Countryman. Tom, I want to come to you. We've got to take a quick commercial break.

Again, just reminding all of you watching, what a day in Washington. We are about to hear from the man who found out he was fired from his job as secretary of state from a tweet this morning from the president of the United States, watching and we're going to see, Rex Tillerson.

Tom Countryman, I'm coming to you next.


REX TILLERSON, OUTGOING SECRETARY OF STATE: I received a call today from the president of the United States a little after noontime from Air Force One, and I've also spoken to White House Chief of Staff Kelly.

To ensure that we have clarity in the days ahead, what is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during the time that the country continues to face significant policy and national-security challenges. As such, effective at the end of the day, I'm delegating all responsibilities of the Office of the Secretary to Deputy Secretary of State Solomon.

My commission as secretary of state will terminate at midnight March 31st. Between now and then, I will address a few administrative matters related to my departure and work towards a smooth and orderly transition for Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo.

I'm encouraging my policy-planning team and under secretaries and assistant secretaries, those confirmed as well as those in acting positions, to remain at their posts, to continue our mission at the State Department and working with the interagency process. I will be meeting members of my front office team and policy planning later today to thank them for their service. They have been extraordinarily dedicated to our mission, which includes promoting values that I view as very important -- the safety and security of State Department personnel, accountability, which means treating each other with honesty and integrity, and respect for one another. Most recently, in particular, to address challenges of sexual harassment within the department.

I want to speak now to my State Department colleagues and our interagency colleagues at DOD, and the Joint Chiefs of Staffs most particularly. To my foreign service officers and civil service colleagues, we all took the same oath of office. Whether you're a career employee or political appointee, we are all bound by that common commitment -- to support and defend the Constitution, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and to faithfully discharge the duties of our office.

As a State Department, we're bound together by that oath. We remain steadfast here in Washington and at posts across the world, many of whom are in danger pay situations without their families. The world needs selfless leaders like these, ready to work with longstanding allies, new emerging partners and allies who now, many are struggling as democracies and in some cases are dealing with human tragedy, crisis, and natural disasters, literally crawling themselves out of those circumstances.

These are experiences that no lecture hall in an academic environment or at a think tank can teach you. Only by people going to the front lines to serve can they develop this kind of talent.

To the men and women in uniform, I'm told for the first time in most people's memory the Department of State and Department of Defense have a close working relationship where we all agree that U.S. leadership starts with diplomacy. The women and men in uniform in the Department of Defense under the leadership of Secretary Mattis and General Dunford protect us as Americans and our way of life daily at home and abroad.

[14:15:06] As an all-volunteer military, they do it for love of country; they do it for you and they do it for me, and for no other reason. As Americans, we are all eternally grateful to each of them and we honor their sacrifices.

The rewarding part of having leadership and partnerships in place is that you can actually get some things done. And I want to give recognition to the State Department and our partners for a few of their accomplishments under this administration.

First, working with allies, we exceeded the expectations of almost everyone with the DPRK maximum pressure campaign. With the announcement on my very first trip as secretary of state to the region, that the era of strategic patience was over and we convinced the steps to dramatically increase not just the scope but the effectiveness of the sanctions. The department undertook a global campaign to bring partners and allies on board in every country around the world, with every embassy and mission raising this to the highest levels, and every meeting I've had throughout the year, this has been on the agenda to discuss.

The adoption of the South Asia strategy, with the conditions-based military plan, is the tool to compel the Taliban with reconciliation and peace talks with the Afghan government, finally equipped our military planners with a strategy which they can execute as opposed to a succession of 16 one-year strategies. This clear military commitment attracted the support of allies broadly and equipped our diplomats with a whole new level of certainty around how to prepare for the peace talks and achieve the final objectives.

In other areas where progress has been made, much work remains. In Syria, we did achieve important cease fires and stabilizations, which we now know have saved thousands of lives. There's more to be done in Syria, particularly with respect to achieving the peace, as well as stabilizing Iraq, and seeing a healthy government installed, and more broadly in the global campaign to defeat ISIS.

Nothing is possible without allies and partners, though. Much work remains to establish a clear view of the nature of our future relationship with China. How should we deal with one another in the next 50 years and ensure a period of prosperity for all of our peoples free of conflict between two very powerful nations?

And 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 interests 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.

So, to my colleagues in the State Department and interagency, much remains to be done to achieve our mission on behalf of the American people with allies and with partners. I close by thanking all for the privilege of serving besides you for the last 14 months.

Importantly to the 300-plus million Americans, thank you for your devotion to a free and open society, to acts of kindness to one another, to honesty, and the quiet, hard work you do every day to support this government with your tax dollars. All of us, we know, want to leave this place as a better place for the next generation.

I'll now return to private life, as a private citizen, as a proud American, proud of the opportunity I had to serve my country. God bless all of you. God bless the American people. God bless America.

BALDWIN: All right. Obviously, not taking questions.

But, wow, there you have the former-Exxon-chief-turned-secretary-of- state, serving at the pleasure of the president. Basically this entire administration thus far, you know, hitting on some of the highlights of his tenure, mentioning, of course, North Korea specifically, and Syria and the Taliban.

But, you know, at the end of the day, he said he will be out of the State Department by the end of March.

And Elise Labott is the woman here at CNN who had an exclusive sit- down with the outgoing secretary of state just two months.

[14:20:03] And, you know, listening to him, he almost seemed -- he almost seemed out of breath. Maybe just realizing the power of this moment and just how dignified he was, given the fact that this is a man who woke up this morning and found out he was fired via tweet.

LABOTT: Definitely trembling, Brooke. We thought he might, you know, develop some fears over that, saying, I think he wanted to come out and address the American people and not go in the sense of bitterness.

We've talked a lot over the last month or two about Secretary Tillerson and his ethics and his commitment to being civil and what he has called the Code of the West, which is I give you my word, you give me my word, your word and we treat you with respect. That's what he tried to do as he came out and thanked his State Department colleagues, wanted the country to know that there's been a lot of talk about the State Department and the dysfunction and the chaos that this will be an orderly transition, that he will stay through the end of the month and he will set things up for his successor, Mike Pompeo.

He wants to not kind of leave with his tail between his legs and make sure that the men and women that continue to serve the State Department will be able to have a smooth transition. It was really kind of striking to see this titan of industry, one of the heads of one of the most powerful multinational companies in the world kind of brought down to size in this way. It was a really striking moment. He is always civil, very respectful and very soft spoken. But, today, certainly, a lot of humility in his remarks.

BALDWIN: Elise, stand by.

Tom Countryman, you were at the State Department for a number of years before you were pushed out by Trump just a couple of months ago. What did you make of the now outgoing secretary of state?

THOMAS COUNTRYMAN, FORMER SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL PUSHED OUT BY TRUMP: Well, first, I feel empathy for Rex Tillerson. It's no fun to get fired, but it can be liberating. And I hope that that's what he feels tomorrow.

I've been critical of Secretary Tillerson for not defending adequately the budget and the personnel of the State Department. But I respect him as a good, decent, civil man, as has been noted. And, more importantly, as somebody who was a restraining influence on the worst instincts of a president who is -- I don't know if the right word is unchained or unhinged.

And what concerns me now is that there will not be that kind of influence from Secretary Pompeo. He is far more hawkish on Iran and North Korea. It reduces my optimism that there can be something valuable that comes out of the Trump meeting with Kim Jong-un a couple of months from now. And it increases my concern that the president will do something that will damage U.S. interest and credibility for years to come, and that is to tear up the Iran agreement, the JCPOA. I fear on all these issues Secretary Pompeo will be more of a yes man and less willing to present an alternative point of view to the president.

BORGER: Brooke, can I just --

BALDWIN: Which leads me back around and Jamie Rubin. Hang just on a second, Gloria.

Jamie Rubin, I mean, you're making that point before we heard Secretary Tillerson speak. Just briefly listening to him, do you agree with Elise, the humility, the dignity as he's on his way out?

RUBIN: I do. I thought it was quite moving as well. You saw someone who obviously came into this job expecting probably something different than it turned out to be.

What I actually heard was a kind of political speech. It was a speech to the various contingencies that he worked with. It was the minimal, I think if at all, any reference to the president and I think he was clearly showing that he did not respect the president all, and now, one has any doubt about what he thinks of him. You know from what he didn't say today that he's going to be very bitter towards President Trump.

And then when he talked about the oath of office of the State Department employees and others, he said to the Constitution. And he emphasized that. And that's something that you only choose to do if you're trying to encourage the bureaucracy and the people who work for the government to remember they have a higher calling than just the current president.

And, finally, he did try to find some areas where he had success. And I think fair enough on North Korea. And I think the lasting thought I would get from it is, when you run a huge corporation like Exxon, you probably develop a bit of a sort of attitude that you can do anything. And that shows you how hard modern Washington is, even in this highest position in the cabinet, the third ranking official after the president.

[14:25:04] And you see how much Washington is a function of actually a kind of plateau where you have to work with the cabinet. You have to work with the Congress. You have to work with the press. You have to work with everyone in Washington in a way that a person at the top of the pyramid never thought he would have to do, and that, he obviously wasn't as good at.

BALDWIN: Gloria, I do want to come to you. I do need to take a break. Hold that thought for me just for a couple of minutes.

We'll be right back.

Rex Tillerson, last day, he said, at the State Department, March 31st.


BALDWIN: We just heard a second ago from the now outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He did confirm, he did speak with Trump just a couple of hours after he discovered he was fired over Twitter as secretary of state.