Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took what appeared to be a thinly veiled swipe at President Donald Trump in his farewell remarks on Thursday, urging State Department employees to guard their personal integrity and avoid fueling Washington’s “mean-spirited” nature.
“I hope you will continue to treat each other with respect. We’re all just human beings trying to do our part,” Tillerson said.
“I’d like to ask that each of you undertake to ensure one act of kindness each day towards another person. This can be a very mean-spirited town,” he added, as employees gathered in the State Department’s lobby chuckled and applauded.
Even some critics of Tillerson—whom Trump fired earlier this month—have argued that the former ExxonMobil CEO was treated shabbily and even humiliated by a president who reportedly ridiculed him in private and fired him with a tweet.
At the same time, the ousted diplomat will be remembered for allegedly calling the president a “moron” during a meeting of top administration officials last summer—a claim Tillerson has never denied.
But friends say that Tillerson, a former national president of the Boy Scouts of America, places a high premium on personal values, a theme he stressed in his short remarks which he told State Department workers were meant “to bid you a proper farewell.”
“Never lose sight of your most valuable asset, the most valuable asset you possess: your personal integrity,” Tillerson said. “[G]uard it as the most precious thing you possess.”
At the conclusion of his speech, Tillerson shook hands with State Department workers as he made his way to a waiting car outside. Tillerson has turned over his duties to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, and said earlier this month that he would officially depart government on March 31—although it was unclear Thursday whether he will return to the State Department.
Tillerson made no substantive remarks about policy. Nor did he address the uncomfortable relationship he had with his workforce, whose members generally resented his efforts to streamline the department and slash its budget and saw him as indifferent at best to their collective expertise.
Tillerson’s tenure as the nation’s chief diplomat was marred by his tenuous relationship with Trump, whose steadily deterioration was the subject of constant Washington gossip. Tillerson irritated Trump in both manner and vision and clashed with the president on issues ranging from North Korea diplomacy to the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump has said that he and Tillerson got along well, but had “a different mind set” and “a different thinking," including on the nuclear deal—which Tillerson has worked to preserve but Trump wants to exit.
Trump has named CIA Director Mike Pompeo to succeed Tillerson. His confirmation hearings are expected to begin next month.