Tillerson abruptly leaves podium after dismissing resignation rumours as 'ridiculous' in awkward exchange with reporter

  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson abruptly left the podium while addressing reporters on Monday.
  • The first question came from a French reporter, who asked him whether he’d already submitted a letter of resignation effective January.
  • Tillerson said the question was “ridiculous” and ended the briefing.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was speaking to reporters Monday before meeting with French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, when a member of the French press asked him an awkward question.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Secretary,” the reporter began. “Secretary Tillerson, have you already submitted a letter of resignation with an effective date in January?”

“That’s ridiculous,” Tillerson replied, according to a transcript posted by CNN.

“Thank you,” the reporter said.

Tillerson repeated that it was “a ridiculous question.” He then abruptly ended the briefing and left the podium.

The inquiry was likely the result of recent media reports indicating that Tillerson’s already-tense relationship with President Donald Trump is growing increasingly frayed.

Tillerson’s resignation rumours swirled as recently as late last month, when The New York Times reported that Trump is considering ousting Tillerson and replacing him with current CIA director Mike Pompeo. In turn, the president is said to be weighing nominating Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton to take Pompeo’s place at the CIA.

Outside of his relationship with Trump, Tillerson has also earned sustained criticism from former diplomats and career foreign service officers for making deep cuts to State Department staff.

“We are witnessing the most significant departure of diplomatic talent in generations,” former diplomats R. Nicholas Burns and Ryan C. Crocker wrote in a Times op-ed last month.

The American Foreign Service Association released employment data in November that appears to support that claim. According to the data, the State Department has seen a “dizzying” drop in foreign service officers in leadership ranks, and a 60% decrease in career ambassadors.

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