Rex Tillerson out of touch with the White House: 'Calls aren’t getting returned -- that kind of crap'
Rex Tillerson's visit comes at a sensitive time for US-Russia relations (AFP Photo/EMMANUEL DUNAND)

White House officials have complained they can't get through to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose chief of staff has closed off access to her boss.

The former Exxon Mobil chief executive has frustrated White House officials by surrounding himself with a tight circle of aides, led by his chief of staff, reported the Washington Post.

State Department chief of staff Margaret Peterlin has built a barrier around Tillerson, some Trump aides told the newspaper, and put herself -- "and only her," one administration official sniffed -- at the center of information and decision making in the diplomatic agency.

Peterlin has been limiting access to Tillerson, one outside adviser told the newspaper, which has forced White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and other top officials to "sneak around" or call the secretary of state on his cell phone.

"It is stove-piped," one senior administration official said. "Calls aren’t getting returned. It’s that kind of crap."

Some Trump administration officials believe Peterlin has taken too much of a role in hiring state department personnel, although State Department aides dismissed the complaints as sour grapes over political appointees.

Tillerson likes to interview two candidates for most department jobs, the newspaper reported, and he won't hire an inexperienced candidate simply because they worked as a Trump campaign operative.

"A desire for political patronage does not help a candidate overcome a lack of competence," said senior State Department aide R.C. Hammond.

The White House has picked candidates for about a dozen ambassadorships, but the State Department hasn't acted on the recommendations or even commented on them.

“Not a word back from State,” one adviser said.

Peterlin declined to comment, but Hammond said she's simply doing her job -- which is acting on Tillerson's orders.

"She is the chief of staff," Hammond said. "Her job is to implement what the secretary wants her to do. She leads the staff to be the implementers of what the secretary wants to get done. Margaret doesn’t freelance."