ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 12, 2011, before the Senate Finance Committee hearing looking into high gasoline prices and high profits. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Awkwardness At State Department: WaPo Makes Tillerson Look Incompetent, But How True Is The Report?

It may be the understatement of the year that the Trump administration has been different from anything else we’ve seen. A new report from the Washington Post – if it is to be believed – paints a picture of an awkward culture at the State Department.

On many days, he blocks out several hours on his schedule as “reading time,” when he is cloistered in his office poring over the memos he prefers ahead of in-person meetings.

Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.

The report goes on to detail handwringing from Democrats and anonymous sources that Tillerson and his inner circle are working to minimize the State Department’s role in government.

Current and recently departed State Department officials — all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid assessments of what one called the “benching” of the oldest Cabinet department — said Tillerson is paying a price.

The trouble with this report is that, the more you dig, the more fishy it smells. AP Diplomatic Writer Matt Lee dismissed the no-eye-contact assertion altogether on Twitter:

Over at National Review, Jim Geraghty classified the report as unfair and cited scuttlebutt that paints quite a different picture:

I heard through the grapevine that Tillerson has held at least one getting-to-know-you meeting with career foreign service employees and that the event went well. Of course, not everyone’s going to instantly bond over one casual meeting with snacks, but in the eyes of the people I heard from, he was making an effort, and they appreciated it.

Geraghty goes on to call out the WaPo‘s sources, noting that they’re not exactly predisposed to compliment Tillerson:

So we’ve got one Congressional Democrat, one Senate Democratic aide, one foreign diplomat, one current official, and what is likely two former State employees who worked under Kerry or Clinton. Somehow it is less than stunning that they would be critical of Tillerson.

Geraghty admits that Tillerson has made some missteps and acknowledges that things aren’t as smooth as they could be yet but that the department isn’t exactly in the shape that the Post‘s hit piece suggests.

Look, Rex Tillerson may have an introverted streak – and I certainly don’t fault him for it. Nor do I fault him for the mistakes his department has made to date, as long as he and the rest of his team can make the right corrections.

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Chris Queen

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