On May 21, the Daily Beast had been the first to report that Trump’s former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “secretly meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee to talk Trump” and “about his time with the president and the frictions he has with the president’s son-in-law,” Jared Kushner.
Tillerson’s arrival at the Capitol was handled with extreme secrecy. No media advisories or press releases were sent out announcing his appearance. And he took a little-noticed route into the building in order to avoid being seen by members of the media.
Tillerson reached out to the committee and expressed a willingness to meet, a committee aide said. In a more than six-hour meeting, he told members and staffers that the Trump administration actively avoided confronting Russia about allegations of interference in the election in an effort to develop a solid relationship with the Kremlin, a committee aide told The Daily Beast.
After being fired by Trump via Tweet in March 2018, Tillerson’s testimony gives a first-hand insight into the “influential and ill-defined role” Jared Kusher plays as a Trump “senior adviser” in the White House.
Tillerson claimed that Kushner “operated independently with powerful leaders around the world without coordination with the State Department” that left Tillerson “out of the loop and in the dark on emerging U.S. policies and simmering geopolitical crises.”
Tillerson also described “the challenge of briefing a president who does not read briefing papers and often got distracted by peripheral topics, noting he had to keep his message short and focus on a single topic.”
“I learned to be much more concise with what I wanted to bring in front of him,” Tillerson told the House panel during a seven-hour session in May.
He stood by his previous characterization that Trump does not dive deep into details and said he learned not to give the president articles or long memos. “That’s just not what he was going to do,” he said.
Foreign Policy reported that Tillerson’s testimony with the House Foreign Affairs Committee “recounted how Kushner repeatedly shut him out of meetings and policy deliberations” and in one instance described how “Tillerson and then-Defense Secretary James Mattis were apparently caught off guard by Kushner having advance knowledge of a Saudi Arabia-led blockade on neighboring Qatar that plunged the region into crisis.”
A committee member asked about a private dinner in May 2017 attended by Kushner, Steve Bannon, bin Salman and Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates in which they discussed the plans by Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. to blockade the neighboring Gulf nation of Qatar, which hosts the headquarters of U.S. Central Command, in the coming weeks.
Tillerson said he didn’t know about any such dinner but that it would have made him “angry” if it had occurred, since he and others in the administration were caught off guard by the blockade a few weeks later.
The committee did not cite a source for their information about the dinner and the White House declined to comment on the record. Bannon did not respond to a request for comment.
Law & Crime reports Tillerson’s description of an incident as an example of Kushner’s secrecy when he just happened to be eating a local DC restaurant and interrupting dinner between Kushner and the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray.
Tillerson had not been informed that the Mexican official was even in the country.
Early on in the interview, Tillerson recounts an incident where he was eating dinner at a local Washington restaurant when the owner informed him that the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs was also dining at the establishment, asking if Tillerson would like to say hello.
“And so, I did. I walked back,” Tillerson said, “And Mr. [Jared] Kushner, and I don’t remember who else was at the table, and the Foreign Secretary were at the table having dinner. And I could see the color go out of the face of the Foreign Secretary of Mexico as I very — I smiled big, and I said: Welcome to Washington. And I said: I don’t want to interrupt what y’all are (108) doing,” Tillerson said.
“I said: Give me a call next time you’re coming to town. And I left it at that. As it turned out later, the Foreign Secretary was operating on the assumption that everything he was talking to Mr. Kushner about had been run through the State Department and that I was fully on board with it. And he was rather shocked to find out that when he started telling me all these things that were news to me, I told him this is the first time I’m hearing of it.
Tillerson seemed careful not to insult the president, and would not address the rumor that he once referred to him as a “fucking moron,” but the description he did give was far from praise, saying he had difficulty explaining things to Trump and was often forced to dumb down complex topics.
“When we would talk about treaties…I just — I would just say I think, as a broad comment, as I characterized, you know, I think, you know, the President was on a steep learning curve around what governs certain activities,” he said.
“One of the challenges I think that everyone had… to learn to deal with was the role, the unique situation with the president’s son-in-law and daughter being part of the White House advisory team,” Tillerson said, according to the transcript The Daily Beast obtained.
“There was not a real clear understanding of the role, responsibilities, authorities… which made it challenging for everyone, I think, in terms of how to deal with activities that might be undertaken by others that were not defined within the national-security process itself.”
When asked for a response to the transcript being released, the White House responded by blaming Tillerson rather than Kushner for any lack of communication.