Rex Tillerson bids farewell to 'mean-spirited' Washington in speech to staff


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left the State Department on Thursday, calling Washington a “mean-spirited town” but saying nothing about President Donald Trump in his farewell remarks to department employees. 

Although it was Tillerson’s last day at the State Department, he retains the title of secretary of state until March 31, just over a year since he began the job.

Trump fired Tillerson last week via a tweet, capping months of friction over policy on North Korea, Russia and Iran. Trump named CIA Director Mike Pompeo as Tillerson’s successor.

“This can be a very mean-spirited town but you don’t have to choose to participate in that,” Tillerson told staff gathered in the lobby of the State Department, his comments interrupted by loud applause. 

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“Each of us get to choose the person we want to be and the way we want to be treated and the way we will treat others,” he said.

Since his firing, Tillerson has pointedly declined to thank Trump for giving him the opportunity to run the State Department. He made no mention of the president in his remarks.

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Trump and Tillerson interact on the world stage
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Trump and Tillerson interact on the world stage
U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confer during a working lunch with African leaders during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) attend a working dinner with Latin American leaders in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson looks toward President Donald Trump during the 9/11 observance at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) looks toward him during a working dinner with Latin American leaders in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
With Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) at his side, U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a luncheon with Kuwait's ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
US President Donald Trump (R) speaks to the press with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) on August 11, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Trump said Friday that he was considering options involving the US military as a response to the escalating political crisis in Venezuela. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) listens to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (C) during a meeting with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C), US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayif bin Abdulaziz al-Saud take part in a bilateral meeting at a hotel in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Trump (C) sits with US Secretary of State Rewx Tillerson (R), Vice President Mike Pence (2nd L) and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (L) during a lunch meeting with Argentinian President Mauricio Macri at the White House in Washington, DC, April 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes off his glasses after delivering a statement on Iran in the Treaty Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, on April 19, 2017. US President Donald Trump's administration has launched a review of the Iran nuclear deal, officials said April 18, branding it a 'failed approach' to the threat posed by the Tehran regime. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: (AFP OUT) US President Donald Trump greets Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin (C) and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) on his way out after delivering his first address to a joint session of Congress on February 28, 2017 in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Trump's first address to Congress focused on national security, tax and regulatory reform, the economy, and healthcare. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo - Pool/Getty Images)
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Tillerson, who has delegated his responsibilities to his deputy, John Sullivan, met Pompeo on Monday.

Pompeo’s nomination hearing is expected to take place as soon as April 12.

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