Trump says Tiller­son’s out

Pom­peo next up; fe­male deputy picked to head CIA


WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Tues­day that he has ousted Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and plans to nom­i­nate CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo to re­place him as the na­tion’s top diplo­mat, shak­ing up his na­tional-se­cu­rity team as it pre­pares for del­i­cate out­reach in­clud­ing talks with North Korea.

It was an abrupt end — af­ter months of spec­u­la­tion — to a rocky ten­ure for a for­mer oil ex­ec­u­tive who never meshed with the pres­i­dent who hired him. Tiller­son clashed re­peat­edly with the White House staff and broke pub­licly with Trump on is­sues rang­ing from the dis­pute be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar to the U.S. re­sponse to Rus­sia’s cy­ber-ag­gres­sion.

Pom­peo, a for­mer tea party con­gress­man, had forged a close re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dent and is viewed as be­ing more in sync with Trump’s “Amer­ica first” credo.

“We were not re­ally think­ing the same,” Trump told re­porters at the White House, ex­plain­ing his de­ci­sion to re­place Tiller­son. He added: “Re­ally, it was a dif­fer­ent mind­set, a dif­fer­ent think­ing.”

The pres­i­dent an­nounced his de­ci­sion on Twit­ter.

At the State De­part­ment on Tues­day af­ter­noon, Tiller­son said the pres­i­dent had called him from Air Force One just af­ter noon — more than three hours af­ter Trump tweeted the news of his fir­ing to Trump’s 49 mil­lion fol­low­ers — to in­form him of the

dis­missal. Tiller­son said he planned to im­me­di­ately step aside from his post, turn­ing over all re­spon­si­bil­i­ties by the end of the day to John Sul­li­van, the deputy sec­re­tary of state.

His voice quiv­er­ing, Tiller­son thanked ca­reer diplo­mats for their “hon­esty and in­tegrity” and the Amer­i­can peo­ple for “acts of kind­ness,” but he did not thank Trump or praise Trump’s poli­cies.

“I’ll now re­turn to pri­vate life, as a pri­vate cit­i­zen, as a proud Amer­i­can, proud of the op­por­tu­nity I had to serve my coun­try,” Tiller­son said. He took no ques­tions be­fore leav­ing the brief­ing room.

Some of the cir­cum­stances of the fir­ing re­mained in dis­pute.

White House of­fi­cials said that, as Tiller­son trav­eled through Africa last week, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called to wake him up in the wee hours there Satur­day to alert him that Trump had de­cided to re­place him. Trump had told his chief of staff that he wanted to an­nounce that he was re­plac­ing Tiller­son on Twit­ter. Kelly urged him to hold off.

Kelly then sug­gested that Tiller­son re­turn to Wash­ing­ton as soon as pos­si­ble. Tiller­son cut his trip short Mon­day.

But a top State De­part­ment spokesman of­fered a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of events — and was swiftly fired for con­tra­dict­ing the White House.

Steve Gold­stein, un­der­sec­re­tary of state for pub­lic diplo­macy and pub­lic af­fairs, had told re­porters that Kelly told Tiller­son only to ex­pect a pres­i­den­tial tweet, not that he would be fired.

Gold­stein’s dis­missal, which came just be­fore he was sched­uled to brief re­porters about the shake-up, was con­firmed by a State De­part­ment of­fi­cial. West Wing of­fi­cials had ac­cused him in re­cent weeks of pri­vately crit­i­ciz­ing White House de­ci­sions to re­porters. Asked Tues­day about the ac­cu­sa­tion, Gold­stein said: “I spoke for the sec­re­tary of state. That was part of my role as the un­der­sec­re­tary.”

Tiller­son’s fir­ing caught even the White House staff by sur­prise. Just the day be­fore, a White House spokesman be­rated a re­porter for sug­gest­ing that there was any kind of split be­tween Tiller­son and the White House be­cause of dis­parate com­ments on Rus­sian re­spon­si­bil­ity for a poi­son at­tack in Bri­tain.

But a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said Trump de­cided to re­place Tiller­son now to have a new team in place be­fore com­ing talks with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader he plans to meet be­fore May. The pres­i­dent also wanted a new chief diplo­mat for var­i­ous on­go­ing trade ne­go­ti­a­tions.

At the CIA, Pom­peo will be re­placed by the cur­rent deputy di­rec­tor, Gina Haspel, who will be the first woman to head the spy agency. Both she and Pom­peo need con­fir­ma­tion by the Se­nate to take the po­si­tions.


Trump said Pom­peo “has earned the praise of mem­bers in both par­ties by strength­en­ing our in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing, mod­ern­iz­ing our de­fen­sive and of­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and build­ing close ties with our friends and al­lies in the in­ter­na­tional in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.”

“I have got­ten to know Mike very well over the past 14 months, and I am con­fi­dent he is the right per­son for the

job at this crit­i­cal junc­ture,” the pres­i­dent con­tin­ued, in a state­ment dis­trib­uted by the White House. “He will con­tinue our pro­gram of restor­ing Amer­ica’s stand­ing in the world, strength­en­ing our al­liances, con­fronting our ad­ver­saries, and seek­ing the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula.”

Pom­peo has be­come a fa­vorite of Trump’s, im­press­ing the pres­i­dent with his en­gag­ing ap­proach dur­ing morn­ing in­tel­li­gence brief­ings. But he also, at times, has been at odds with the pres­i­dent — in­clud­ing agree­ing with a CIA as­sess­ment about Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tions.

As CIA di­rec­tor, Pom­peo said there is “a long his­tory of Rus­sian ef­forts to in­flu­ence the United States and con­duct in­flu­ence oper­a­tions against the United States.”

“He’s made some good state­ments on Rus­sia and ac­knowl­edg­ing the ob­vi­ous that they were in­volved, and I’m anx­ious to see if he sticks to those views” as sec­re­tary of state, said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

Pom­peo had en­gaged in tough talk about Rus­sia long be­fore the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

As a Kansas con­gress­man, Pom­peo said the U.S. and its al­lies should ex­ploit Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s weak­nesses and en­act sanc­tions “to keep him in his box.”

Trump has been crit­i­cized by Democrats and Repub­li­cans alike for speak­ing out about his ad­mi­ra­tion for Putin and re­peat­edly re­ject­ing the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s anal­y­sis of Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. And he has blasted spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Robert

Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions that his cam­paign col­luded with the Krem­lin dur­ing the elec­tion.

Mike McFaul, who served as am­bas­sador to Rus­sia from 2012-14, said Pom­peo might be able to use his close re­la­tion­ship with Trump to get the pres­i­dent on board with his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s own pol­icy.

“What we have seen on record sug­gests he sees the na­ture of the threat,” he said. “But whether he has the power to con­vince Trump of that, I just don’t know.”

Some Democrats praised Pom­peo’s long-stand­ing views on Rus­sia on Tues­day but wor­ried that he won’t stand firm as he be­comes one of Trump’s top aides.

“Tiller­son’s suc­ces­sor must ap­proach the grave threat of Rus­sian for­eign ag­gres­sion with the se­ri­ous­ness and ur­gency that it de­mands,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia, the House Demo­cratic leader. “Di­rec­tor Pom­peo has stated he has ‘ev­ery ex­pec­ta­tion’ Rus­sia will at­tack our democ­racy again. Amer­ica must be ready.”

In a Twit­ter post, Pelosi warned that the turnover at the top of the State De­part­ment had di­min­ished the United States with for­eign lead­ers.

In pick­ing Haspel to suc­ceed Pom­peo at the CIA, Trump opted for con­ti­nu­ity rather than bring­ing in an out­sider. At one point last fall, Sen. Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas, one of the pres­i­dent’s clos­est Repub­li­can al­lies on Capi­tol Hill, had been ten­ta­tively tapped as the front-run­ner to run the agency if Pom­peo moved up, but the idea later faded.

Cot­ton on Tues­day called Pom­peo, a fel­low vet­eran and Har­vard Law School grad­u­ate, “an out­stand­ing se­lec­tion” for the sec­re­tary of state job.

“Mike’s deep un­der­stand­ing of world af­fairs, his cleareyed view of the threats to our na­tional se­cu­rity, and his key re­la­tion­ships with world lead­ers make him an ex­cel­lent choice to be our top diplo­mat,” the Repub­li­can from Dar­danelle said in a state­ment.

Cot­ton said he would sup­port the nom­i­na­tion of Pom­peo as well as that of Haspel.


Tiller­son has been out of fa­vor with Trump for months but had re­sisted be­ing pushed out. His dis­tance from Trump’s in­ner cir­cle was clear last week when the pres­i­dent ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion to meet with Kim, to Tiller­son’s sur­prise.

The turn­ing point for Tiller­son came be­fore that, when NBC News re­ported last fall that he had called the pres­i­dent a “mo­ron,” lead­ing him to take the ex­tra­or­di­nary step of hold­ing a news con­fer­ence to af­firm his sup­port for Trump and in­sist that he had never con­sid­ered re­sign­ing.

Dur­ing a trip to Bei­jing in Septem­ber, Tiller­son told re­porters that he al­ready had “a cou­ple, three” lines into North Korea to get com­mu­ni­ca­tion started with the United States. Trump den­i­grated the ef­fort on Twit­ter the next morn­ing by say­ing Tiller­son was “wast­ing his time try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Lit­tle Rock-

et Man.”

“Save your en­ergy Rex,” he said, adding, “we’ll do what has to be done!”

Trump later said he wished his sec­re­tary of state were tougher. The Chi­nese were left to won­der why Trump sent an emis­sary whose mes­sage the pres­i­dent did not be­lieve in.

An­other rea­son for Trump’s anger at the time was that Tiller­son’s sug­ges­tion of se­cret talks with North Korea sur­prised Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who called the White House to com­plain, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple with knowl­edge of the ex­change.

That Tiller­son failed to take into ac­count Seoul’s pos­si­ble re­ac­tion was one of sev­eral em­bar­rass­ing stum­bles, aris­ing from his own in­ex­pe­ri­ence and de­ci­sion to in­su­late him­self from the de­part­ment’s diplo­matic corps.

With his ouster, Tiller­son joins a long list of Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pointees who have left or been fired, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent’s first na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, chief of staff, chief strate­gist, press sec­re­tary, two White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tors, and sec­re­tary of health and hu­man ser­vices.

On Tues­day, Trump em­phat­i­cally re­jected talk of chaos in his year-old ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I’m re­ally at a point where we’re get­ting very close to hav­ing the Cab­i­net and other things that I want,” he said.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Peter Baker, Gar­diner Har­ris and Mark Lan­dler of The New York Times; by Ash­ley Parker, Philip Rucker, John Hud­son, Carol B. Leon­nig, Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey, Karen DeYoung, Carol Morello and Brian Mur­phy of The Wash­ing­ton Post; by Anita Ku­mar, Lind­say Wise, Emma Du­main, William Dou­glas, Greg Gor­don, Tom Hart, Peter Stone and Hunter Woodall of the Tri­bune News Ser­vice; by Tracy Wilkin­son and Brian Ben­nett of the Los An­ge­les Times; by Josh Le­d­er­man, Zeke Miller, Matthew Lee, Jill Colvin, Jonathan Lemire, Lisa Moscaro and Ken Thomas of The As­so­ci­ated Press; and by Frank E. Lock­wood of the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette.


“We dis­agreed on things,” Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dur­ing a farewell news con­fer­ence Tues­day at the State De­part­ment.


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