That doesn’t sound like him.
To be clear, the bit about doing things in unlawful ways refers not to criminal schemes but to Trump sometimes not understanding what existing law did and didn’t allow him to do in setting policy unilaterally as president. That may not be a “Trump problem” per se, more of a “guy who’s never held office and didn’t go to law school and thus doesn’t know the rules” problem. (Although Trump’s interest in civics is probably below replacement level even among that group.) Plus, electing a guy who did go to a very good law school and does, in theory, know the rules is no guarantee of better results in every circumstance. Look no further than Barack Obama and DACA.
“It was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented ExxonMobil Corporation to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t — doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t — doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things but rather just kind of says, look, this is what I believe and you can try to convince me otherwise, but most of the time you’re not going to do that.”…
“When the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it,’ and I’d have to say to him, ‘Well, Mr. President, I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law, it violates the treaty, you know,’” Tillerson explained.
“I didn’t know how to conduct my affairs with him any other way than in a very straightforward fashion. And I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day that told him, ‘You can’t do that, and let’s talk about what we can do.’”
As others have noted, this sounds like a more elaborate, refined version of a comment Tillerson is alleged to have made about Trump while he was still as State. Trump is taking the criticism in stride, as he usually does:
Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
It’s worth watching the clip below despite having read the excerpt, as there’s a line in the video that wasn’t included in the written account. John Dickerson picks up on it too. At one point Tillerson notes that he and Trump don’t share some of the same “values.” What’s that mean? Managerial values, like … reading briefing books? Diplomatic values, like not speaking admiringly of tyrants? Or basic civic values, like “The treaty says we can’t do that”?
An interesting point is also made about Tillerson, a corporate exec, viewing his diplomatic job in terms of having a fiduciary duty to the public. Most politicians (some politicians?) approach their jobs that way, I’d guess: Either you produce results for your “shareholders” or you’re apt to get fired. By some key measures, even according to his admirers, Trump hasn’t produced results. But it’s unimaginable that supporters would “fire” him. This isn’t corporate warfare, it’s cultural warfare. You don’t replace the general who’s leading the culture war even if he hasn’t won as many battles as you’d hoped. Maybe that’s what Tillerson meant by different “values.”