Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday he is not worried about how much independence President Trump will give him to do his job despite Trump's decision last week to fire FBI Director James Comey in the midst of an FBI investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.
"I have a great relationship with the president," Tillerson told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd on NBC News. "I understand what his objectives are. When I'm not clear on what his objectives are, we talk about it. But I am devoted to helping the president achieve his objectives, helping him be successful. And I understand I have to earn his confidence every day with how I go about those affairs and how I go about conducting the State Department's activities consistent with the direction he wants to take the country."
Tillerson made those comments in response to a question from Todd about whether Comey's abrupt firing would "shake your concern" about how much independence Trump would give him.
"Not at all," Tillerson replied.
Asked what the line between service to Trump and service to the country is for him, Tillerson said he "will never compromise my own values."
"And so that's my only line," he said. "And my values are those of the country."
However, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., criticized Tillerson recently for tell Department of State employees that "conditioning our foreign policy too heavily on values creates obstacles to advance our national interests."
"With those words, Secretary Tillerson sent a message to oppressed people everywhere, 'Don't look to the United States for hope,' " McCain wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times last week.
"I make a distinction between values and policy," Tillerson said on Meet the Press. "A policy has to be tailored to the individual situation. To the country. To its circumstances. To the broader issues that we are addressing in terms of advancing our national security interest, our national economic interest."
"And so the values guide our policy, but if we put our values in the front of our policies and say, 'This is our policy,' we have no room to adapt to changing circumstances to achieve our ultimate objective," the secretary of State said. "And I think if we are successful in achieving our ultimate diplomatic and national security objectives, we will create the conditions for the advancement of freedom in countries all over the world."
One of those national security objectives, Tillerson said, is to try to establish a better relationship with Russia despite that nation's interference in last year's U.S. presidential election. "The president, I think, has made it clear that he feels it's important that we re-engage with Russia," he said. "The relationship with Russia, as he has described, and I have described as well, is I think at an all-time low point since the end of the Cold War, with a very low level of trust. I think it's in the interest of the American people, it's in the interest of Russia, the rest of the world, that we do something to see if we cannot improve the relationship between the two greatest nuclear powers in the world."
Asked what repercussions the Russians should face for interfering in the U.S. election, Tillerson did not offer any specifics. "They're (repercussions) just part of that broader landscape of conversations," he said. "And I think the real impact is it serves yet again to undermine the trust between the United States and Russia...And so what we're exploring is how do we begin the process of restoring that trust."
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