Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has mostly steered clear of the news media, but he sat down for a wide-ranging interview with CBS News foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan, which aired on 60 Minutes Sunday night. Tillerson spoke about the challenges dealing with North Korea, declined again to "dignify the question" of whether he called President Trump a "moron," and insisted that "there's been no dismantling at all of the State Department," despite 41 empty ambassadorships and numerous vacancies at the top of the department. He also talked about his relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin, forged when he was a top executive at ExxonMobil.
"You've said you had a very close relationship with Vladimir Putin," Brennan said. "You've done huge deals with him. Photos of you toasting him with champagne. And all that closeness raised eyebrows. It even inspired a Saturday Night Live skit. Did you ever see that skit?" Tillerson said yes, "my kids pointed me to it," and "I laughed out loud."
The SNL skit, with John Goodman playing Tillerson, made light of "this concern that you have a friendship with Vladimir Putin, and that because of that, you and the president aren't going to hold him to account," Brennan pointed out. "The relationship that I had with President Putin spans 18 years now. It was always about 'What could I do to be successful on behalf of my shareholders, how Russia could succeed,'" he responded. When he walked in to meet Putin as secretary of state, Tillerson said, "the only thing I said to him was 'Mr. President, same man, different hat.'"
"I said to him, 'I now represent the American people,'" Tillerson said of his Putin meeting, when asked to elaborate. "And I think it was important that that be said right up front. And he clearly got, I mean, he clearly understood that as well." You can read and watch the entire interview at 60 Minutes.