Rex Tillerson appears to take thinly veiled swipe at Donald Trump in commencement speech

Rex Tillerson appears to take thinly veiled swipe at Donald Trump in commencement speech

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to take a thinly veiled swipe at President Donald Trump during a commencement ceremony on Wednesday.

Two months after he was fired by Trump, Tillerson took to the stage to talk to soon-to-be graduates of the Virginia Military Institute, warning them of the dangers of leaders "who conceal the truth".

While he didn't mention the president by name in his first public speech since leaving the administration, many have taken his words as a rebuke of the former reality TV star.

"If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom," he told the crowd.

He also warned that if the United States failed to address the ethics crisis now, it could mean "American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years", adding: "We do not have to look far to find examples of the cost to individuals and to society when integrity is sacrificed for immediate gain or personal achievement."

Tillerson was removed as Secretary of State after a tempestuous year in office, a period of time in which relations between him and Trump allegedly became incredibly strained. The two had apparently fought on many matters, including whether undertaking negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were worth it, with the president posting that Mr Tillerson was "wasting his time".

Perhaps the final straw was when the American former government official was rumoured to call Trump "a moron" in a Pentagon meeting in October. Afterwards, Tillerson insisted he enjoys a close relationship with Trump, called the 45th POTUS "smart." However, he would not directly deny the story, saying: "I'm not going to deal with petty stuff like that. I'm just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration."

Tillerson's protestations didn't stop him from being fired months later, in March 2018, with Trump choosing CIA Director Mike Pompeo to succeed him.

The president spoke to reporters after posting the tweet, stating that he and Mr Pompeo shared similar thinking and he had “disagreed” with Mr Tillerson. He also added that the former oil and gas CEO would be “much happier” out of office.