Tillerson out, Pompeo in
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump unceremoniously dumped Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday — via Twitter — and picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to shift from America's spy chief to its top diplomat. The abrupt announcement ended the turbulent tenure of the man who reportedly called the president a "moron" but wanted to stay.
The plans to oust Tillerson had been drawn up months ago, but the timing surprised even senior White House officials.
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," Trump said Tuesday.
He said he was nominating the CIA's deputy director, Gina Haspel, to take over for Pompeo at the intelligence agency. If confirmed, Haspel would be the CIA's first female director
As for Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil CEO whom Trump picked as his administration's top Cabinet official, the president said simply, "We disagreed on things."
One prime example involved the agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear efforts. Trump's change puts Pompeo, an ardent foe of the Iran nuclear deal, in charge of U.S. diplomacy as the president decides whether to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. Tillerson had pushed Trump to remain and had been pursuing a delicate strategy with European allies and others to try to improve or augment the Obama-era deal to Trump's liking.
"We were not really thinking the same," said Trump.
Tillerson, his voice occasionally quavering, gave brief farewell remarks Tuesday at the State Department, thanking department staff members and diplomats around the world — but not mentioning Trump, except to say that he'd spoken by phone to the president Tuesday while Trump was on Air Force One, hours after the tweeted firing.
Trump kept the timing to an unusually close circle that included chief of staff John Kelly and Vice President Mike Pence, officials said. Pompeo was brought into the White House Friday after returning from an overseas trip and was offered the job formally by phone Saturday.
Kelly was given the task of phoning Tillerson, who was in Africa, but the nature of their conversation was up for dispute. White House officials said Kelly told Tillerson that Trump wanted a change and he should step down. Tillerson, the White House said, asked that Trump wait until he returned to the U.S., and he shortened his trip to Africa.
However, Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein and other State Department officials said Tillerson hadn't learned he was being dismissed until he saw Trump's early Tuesday tweet and hadn't discussed it directly with the president. Goldstein said Tillerson was "unaware of the reason" he was fired and "had had every intention of staying."
That was the end for Goldstein. Hours later, he was fired, too.
Tillerson, in his final somber turn before the cameras, said he would be delegating his responsibilities to deputy secretary John Sullivan at the end of the workday and would resign effective at the end of the month.
"I will now return to private life, private citizen, a proud American, proud of the opportunity I've had to serve my country," he said.
Trump in recent days has told confidants that he feels emboldened, confident in his decisions to order new international trade on tariffs and to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and far less willing to put up with disloyalty around him, according to a person who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, has already been confirmed by the Senate for his current role at the CIA, making it extremely likely that he will be confirmed for the State Department role.
Pompeo's hawkish instincts may seem at odds with traditional diplomatic norms, but after 14 demoralizing months of budget cuts and staffing reductions for the State Department, his conservative political bent and closeness to Trump could breathe new vigor into an agency all too often sidelined on many of the most-pressing national security matters.
In Pompeo, the diplomats and civil servants who make up the 70,000-strong department will experience a fiercely partisan veteran of some of the most bitter battles in Congress while he was a House Republican. But Pompeo also helped engineer a detente between Trump and the U.S. intelligence agencies after the incoming president likened them to Nazis.
In choosing CIA veteran Haspel to take over the spy agency, Trump chose a woman who spent multiple tours overseas and is respected by the workforce. But she is deeply tied to the agency's use of brutal interrogation measures on terrorism suspects.
Haspel, 61, would become the first woman to lead the CIA if she is confirmed.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson waves goodbye after speaking at a news conference Tuesday at the State Department.