Trump fires Tiller­son, taps CIA’s Pom­peo to re­place him

The Palm Beach Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Wad­hams and Jennifer Ep­stein

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ousted U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son on Tues­day, end­ing a rocky ten­ure in an abrupt move that stunned the for­mer Exxon Mo­bil CEO and set in mo­tion a shakeup of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s for­eign pol­icy team.

Trump an­nounced Tiller­son’s ouster in a tweet shortly be­fore 9 a.m. af­ter weeks of staff tur­moil, say­ing he would nom­i­nate CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo as sec­re­tary of state. But it was sev­eral hours be­fore Trump dis­cussed his de­ci­sion with Tiller­son, who said he’ll hand over all re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to Deputy Sec­re­tary John Sullivan at mid­night Tues­day.

In a farewell state­ment, Tiller­son said the pres­i­dent called him “a lit­tle af­ter noon time” from Air Force One en route to Cal­i­for­nia. The top U.S. diplo­mat didn’t thank Trump or praise his lead­er­ship in his public com­ments, in­stead sin­gling out the work of his State Depart­ment col­leagues on high-profile is­sues in­clud­ing North Korea and coun­tert­er­ror­ism.

The pres­i­dent’s move comes as his

ad­min­is­tra­tion is pre­par­ing for high-stakes and his­toric talks be­tween Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump told reporters at the White House Tues­day that he and Tiller­son had dis­agree­ments over key is­sues in­clud­ing the Iran nu­clear deal. Tiller­son, Trump said, “had dif­fer­ent mind­set. I think Rex is much hap­pier now.”

Trump lauded Pom­peo af­ter the an­nounce­ment, say­ing that as CIA chief, he had “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.”

Deputy CIA Di­rec­tor Gina Haspel would suc­ceed Pom­peo, be­com­ing the fi­first woman to lead the agency, Trump said. Haspel is a ca­reer spy, with more than three decades’ ex­pe­ri­ence at the agency.

Tiller­son, 65, took a mid­dle-of-the-night phone call from White House chief of staff John Kelly on Fri­day dur­ing his Africa trip, telling him that the pres­i­dent was plan­ning to re­place him, ac­cord­ing to two of­fi­cials. He then spent the week­end fight­ing for his job be­tween stops in Africa. Still, a top State Depart­ment off iffi ci al said Tiller­son was blind­sided by Trump’s telling the­world he was ousted in a tweet.

“He had no idea that this was oc­cur­ring,” said Steve Gold­stein, Tiller­son’s un­der­sec­re­tary of state for public diplo­macy and public af­fairs, who was fi­fired by the White House hours later. “He did not know.”

With his voice ap­pear­ing to break, Tiller­son said that af­ter hand­ing over all re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to Sullivan, he’ll of­fi­cially step down as sec­re­tary of state on March 31. He’ ll spend the com­ing weeks as­sist­ing with the tran­si­tion and he en­cour­aged his top aides to stay on un­til that process is fifin­ished.

The dis­missal fol­lows a wave of de­par­tures and tur­moil in Trump’s in­ner cir­cle. The pres­i­dent’s top economic ad­viser Gary Cohn an­nounced plans to leave ear­lier this month, join­ing for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Hope Hicks. Staffff sec­re­tary Rob Porter was fired af­ter al­le­ga­tions of do­mes­tic abuse.

“The in­sta­bil­ity of this ad­min­is­tra­tion in just about ev­ery area weak­ens Amer­ica,” Se­nate Demo­cratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Twit­ter.

Trump, in his Tues­day an­nounce­ment, sig­naled that Pom­peo would bring the skills needed to con­front the chang­ing for­eign pol­icy chal­lenges fac­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Hired for his busi­ness acu­men and out­sider’s at­ti­tude, Tillers on, had ini­tially earned Trump’s praise as a deal­maker in the pres­i­dent’s mold who would cham­pion his “Amer­ica First” pol­icy to the world. He came to the po­si­tion with rec­om­men­da­tions from­former Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice and ex-Pen­tagon chief Robert Gates.

But af­ter an early hon­ey­moon with Trump, he ap­peared un­able to main­tain a bond with the pres­i­dent. The two re­peat­edly, and pub­licly, dis­agreed — on whether to stay in the Paris cli­mate change ac­cord, on how ag­gres­sively to back the em­bargo against Qatar led by Saudi Ara­bia and on whether to pur­sue a di­plo­matic so­lu­tion to North Korea’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

Tillers on also grew in­creas­ingly al armed by what he sawas se­cret talks be­tween Jared Kush­ner, Trump’s sonin-law and se­nior ad­viser, and Saudi Ara­bian Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man — fear­ful that the dis­cus­sions could back­fire and tip the re­gion into chaos, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with Tiller­son’s con­cerns.

Spec­u­la­tion that Tiller­son was on his way out — so fre­quent that it­was nick­named “Rexit” — es­ca­lated in Oc­to­ber, when NBC News re­ported that Tiller­son had re­ferred to Trump in pri­vate as a “mo­ron.”

Tiller­son scoffed at the re­port, although he left it to his spokes­woman to deny he’d used the word.

Tiller­son’s dis­missal was an­nounced in a tweet.

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