A new POLITICO report suggests Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, has become increasingly isolated and is relying on two senior aides while failing to fill a hundreds of senior seats in the State Department.
According to POLITICO, Tillerson leans almost exclusively on his chief of staff Margaret Peterlin and policy chief Brian Hook, two senior aides who worked together during President George W. Bush’s administration. The report claims that Peterlin and Hook “have cut career staff out of decision-making in an attempt to combat the sort of leaks that have hobbled the White House – and have isolated Tillerson from some of the people who could help him succeed.”
Tillerson has left open hundreds of senior posts in the State Department that require appointment by the president, and according to POLITICO sources, the secretary of state is “in no rush” to fill them. Instead, some of those vacated seats are currently occupied by “holdovers” from President Barack Obama’s administration in spite of “criticism from department veterans.”
The two aides act a joint firewall and policy machine for Secretary Tillerson, who has a department of more than 75,000 employees at his disposal. Peterlin, according to the report, is Tillerson’s “gatekeeper” who fields calls even from former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and Hook is the “policy brain” that crafts foreign policy briefing memos for the secretary. Because they are so overworked, the latter has been described as always having his “hair on fire.”
Beyond overwhelming the two staffers doing the work of thousands of employees, the “bottleneck” effect of Tillerson’s State Department has “led foreign governments to seek out other avenues of communication.” According to the report, the lack of Trump-appointed ambassadors has caused some foreign leaders to “reaching out directly to Hook or to other White House officials including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.”
Underneath this isolation is the duo’s reported distrust of civil servants due to the Trump administration’s propensity for leakiness that has caused Hook to take such drastic measures as tasking “an official with an economics portfolio to draft a memo summarizing the U.S. fight against the Islamic State.”
Their distrust reportedly extends beyond those he deems potential leakers — according to POLITICO sources, “some State Department officials who have been cut out of the policymaking process have told colleagues they believe it is because they are suspected of being Hillary Clinton supporters.”
Along with the reported diplomatic isolationism, the POLITICO report also reveals the existence of the State Department’s “dissent channel,” which is “an internal venue for career officials to register concerns with the trajectory of American policy,” that was reportedly ablaze with commentary about the president’s refugee ban before Tillerson had even been confirmed.
Read the entire report on Secretary Tillerson’s startling isolation via POLITICO.