Tillerson out, CIA chief in top spot
UNITED STATES: President Donald Trump stunned Washington yesterday by abruptly firing his secretary of state, thereby removing his top foreign policy adviser as his White House barrels towards an array of national security challenges.
Trump said that his personal ‘‘chemistry’’ with Rex Tillerson, the former oil executive who had filled the role for just over a year, had degraded to become unworkable. Tillerson is set to be replaced by Mike Pompeo, a former congressman and West Point graduate who is the CIA director.
A week ago Trump lost his top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who resigned after his opposition to tariffs was ignored. Since his inauguration last January, he has also parted company with a national security adviser, four communications directors, a press secretary, a chief political strategist, a health secretary, a chief of staff, a White House staff secretary, an FBI director and an acting attorney-general. There was speculation in Washington that HR McMaster, the national security adviser, will depart this week.
‘‘I’m really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want,’’ Trump said yesterday. No modern White House has recorded as high a level of staff turnover.
Pompeo, who earned Trump’s trust while giving a daily intelligence briefing, is known for hawkish views on Iran and Russia.
Trump agreed last week to hold a historic face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong Un before the end of May. Trump has vowed to make a decision on whether to stand by the Iran nuclear deal - which he yesterday called ‘‘terrible’’ but which Tillerson wanted to maintain - in weeks.
Last Friday, the president jolted America’s partners by signing orders for steep protectionist tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, drawing retaliation threats from the EU and China.
Trump said that Pompeo was the right person to steward US foreign policy. ‘‘I’ve worked with Mike Pompeo now for quite some time. Tremendous energy, tremendous intellect. We’re always on the same wavelength. That’s what I need as secretary of state . . . With Mike, we’ve had a very good chemistry right from the beginning.’’
It had been rumoured for months that Tillerson’s exit was imminent but the timing of ‘‘Rexit’’ caught senior White House staff off guard. Trump had clashed with the former ExxonMobil chief executive on a host of issues, including the Paris climate accord, US relations with Qatar, Trump’s reluctance to blame Russia for its interference in the 2016 election and the tariffs decision. The rift between the two worsened when it was alleged last October that Tillerson had called Trump ‘‘a f***ing moron’’ after one contentious national security meeting.
‘‘We were not really thinking the same . . . it was a different mind-set, a different thinking,’’ Trump said yesterday of his relationship with Tillerson. ‘‘Rex will be much happier now.’’
Tillerson had been known as one of the ‘‘grown-ups’’ in the Trump administration, alongside Jim Mattis, the defence secretary, and John Kelly, the White House chief of staff.
Kelly is understood to have urged Tillerson to consider stepping aside in calls last weekend. He apparently warned Tillerson that ‘‘you may get a tweet’’.
Steve Goldstein, a state department spokesman, said that Tillerson was fired before dawn yesterday. Hours later, Goldstein was also fired.
Trump said that he had chosen Gina Haspel to become the new director of the CIA. She would be the first woman to lead the agency and is Pompeo’s deputy. Haspel and Pompeo still need to be confirmed by the Senate. -
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going because President Donald Trump found their ‘’chemistry’' unworkable.