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They say I called Trump a ‘moron?’ That smarts, says Tillerson

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on Wednesday, Oct.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, denied news reports that he had threatened to quit his job. Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

He meant to say ‘brainiac’

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the news conference in a hurry. NBC News was reporting that he had threatened to quit last summer. The story also said that after frustrating discussions on Afghanistan, he told others that Trump was a “moron.”

“I have never considered leaving this post,” Tillerson declared Wednesday morning. Effusively praising the president’s skills, Tillerson said, “He’s smart.”

But did he or didn’t he call Trump a “moron?”

“I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he answered.

The nondenial hung in the air. Later, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tillerson denied it to her — he “does not use that type of language.”

Trump lately has tweaked Tillerson on Twitter, mocking him for “wasting his time” on diplomacy with North Korea. But the president stood by him in public Wednesday, telling reporters “It was fake news from NBC” and “I have total confidence in Rex.”

What else didn’t happen

When another State Department press aide, R.C. Hammond, disputed parts of NBC’s reporting, he created another mess. Hammond said Vice President Mike Pence had quizzed Tillerson if he had positive or negative views about UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Haley has been rumored to be a potential successor to Tillerson, who even as he was reaffirming “my commitment to this role,” is widely believed to be unhappy in the job and often at odds with Trump on policy.

Hammond ate his words later, tweeting, “I spoke out of line about conversations I wasn’t privy to.” A Pence spokesman denied there was any such conversation.

Another Twit-snit Thursday

Clearly unhappy with critical coverage on Tillerson and probes of the Russia controversy, Trump offered this early Thursday: "Why Isn't the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!"

And also this: "Rex Tillerson never threatened to resign. This is Fake News put out by NBC News. Low news and reporting standards. No verification from me."

The take-away: House of intrigue

Once again, the Trump SoHo condo-hotel project is a focus of interest, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison. It was already in the news because of the ties of developers Felix Sater and Tevfik Arif to both Trump and Russia.

Now ProPublica reports Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump narrowly avoided criminal indictment in 2012 when the Manhattan district attorney’s office investigated claims that they misled prospective buyers with phony sales figures.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., after hearing out Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz, overruled prosecutors who wanted the Trump kids charged. Before deciding, Vance returned a $25,000 campaign donation from Kasowitz — but later collected a bigger one.

Don’t burn those IOUs

It sounded like Trump had a surprise gift for Puerto Rico — and a stink bomb for its bondholders — when he said on Fox News of the bankrupt territory’s $73 billion in debt: “We will have to wipe that out. ... You can wave goodbye to that.”

On Wednesday morning, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney gave a series of interviews and all but called the boss’ comments fake news.

“I wouldn’t take it word for word with that,” he said on CNN. What Trump meant is that “Puerto Rico is going to have to figure out a way to solve that debt problem in order to fix itself going forward,” Mulvaney said.

Passing on the SALT

Republican leaders working with the Trump administration on a tax overhaul plan are willing to back away from eliminating the state and local tax deduction, known as SALT, according to Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.)

The deduction is important in New York and other high-tax states. “It’s ironclad that you will not see a full repeal,” said Collins, a Trump ally from western New York. A compromise may instead put a cap on the deduction for the highest earners.

Healing in Las Vegas

Trump visited Las Vegas to deliver a message on behalf of a “nation in mourning” to the family and friends of the dozens slain and hundreds injured by a “very demented” gunman Sunday night, and to thank first responders, reports Newsday’s Emily Ngo.

Trump said it was still too soon for him to join the new debate on firearms laws. “We’re not going to talk about that today,” he said.

Some Republicans in Congress who are normally opposed to gun-control measures say they are open to discussing a ban on bump-stock devices — attachments that allow semi-automatic rifles to shoot rapidly like automatic weapons.

What else is happening

  • Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has questioned Trump’s competence, said Tillerson and two retired generals — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly — “are those people that help separate our country from chaos.”
  • Senate Intelligence Committee leaders say the “general consensus” of its investigation is that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, but that “the issue of collusion is still open” and the probe will continue, reports Newsday’s Tom Brune.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller has taken over FBI inquiries into a former British spy’s dossier containing allegations of Russian financial and personal links to Trump’s campaign and associates, Reuters reported.
  • Russian-linked Facebook ads targeted Michigan and Wisconsin, two states that narrowly went to Trump, CNN reported. Investigations are looking into whether the Russians received any help from Trump associates about where to focus the ads.
  • An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found 32 percent approved of how Trump is handling disaster relief in Puerto Rico, while 49 percent disapproved.
  • The Trump administration asked Congress for $29 billion in disaster aid to cover relief and recovery efforts and to pay federal flood insurance claims from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
  • Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, who is backing hard-right GOP primary challenges to incumbents deemed too close to the establishment, is now supporting former Rep. Michael Grimm’s House bid in Staten Island. Grimm gave up the seat to serve a prison sentence for tax evasion.

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