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