May 17 (UPI) -- Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned military graduates about a growing ethics and integrity crisis among U.S. leaders, in what some interpreted as a critique of the Trump administration.
Tillerson, who was fired in March by President Donald Trump, did not mention the president during his commencement speech at the Virginia Military Institute Wednesday -- but warned of accepting "alternative realities" not "grounded in facts."
"A responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what truth is and is not, what a fact is and is not," Tillerson told the graduates.
"You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."
The former diplomat and ExxonMobil executive also told the grads democracy could be in danger.
"As I reflect upon the state of our American democracy, I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity," he said. "If we do not, as Americans, confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both public and private sector -- and regrettably, at times, even the non-profit sector -- then American democracy, as we know it, is entering its twilight years."
Many took Tillerson's comments as a thinly-veiled rebuke of Trump, who's often criticized what he terms "fake news."
VMI announced Tillerson as the commencement speaker while he was still secretary of state. Trump fired him a few weeks later.
Tillerson's relationship with Trump became increasingly strained over his tenure, and media reports said at one stage he called Trump a "moron", due to policy disputes.
In Tillerson's farewell speech at the State Department, he described Washington as "mean-spirited" and encouraged his former employees to perform "one act of kindness" every day.