Rex Tillerson ousted as secretary of state
President Trump announced on Twitter Tuesday that he dumped his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and replaced him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!,” Trump wrote on Twitter moments before he was to depart the White House for a trip to California.
Trump said he didn’t consult Tillerson, who was visiting US allies in Africa, before firing him.
“I really didn’t discuss it very much with him, honestly. I made that decision by myself. You know Rex wasn’t in this country,” Trump told reporters as he prepared to board Marine One. “I made this decision by myself.”
White House chief of staff John Kelly reached out to Tillerson on Saturday as he traveled in Africa to alert him that he was being ousted and that he should return to the United States immediately, the Washington Post reported.
Tillerson, who canceled some events because of illness Saturday, cut short his visit on Monday and arrived back in the US early Tuesday.
But Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein said Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, “did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason” he was booted.
Goldstein said Tillerson “had every intention of staying” because he thought he was making progress in enhancing national security.
The president said he and Tillerson didn’t see eye to eye, especially over the Iran nuclear deal, but that he and Pompeo have a “similar thought process.”
“I’ve worked with Mike Pompeo now for quite some time. Tremendous energy, tremendous intellect, we’re always on the same wavelength,” Trump said. “The relationship has been very good and that’s what I need as secretary of state.”
Trump wished Tillerson well and said, “I think he will be a lot happier now.”
“I’m really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want,” Trump said outside the White House.
Tillerson, who’s been in the post since February 2017, and Trump have clashed a number of times, including over how to approach North Korea and pulling out of the Paris climate accord.
The tensions were exacerbated last October when reports said Tillerson called Trump a “moron.”
And the day before Trump’s announcement, Tillerson broke with the White House when he said the poisoning in England earlier this month of a former Russian spy “clearly came from Russia” and will “trigger a response.”
Tillerson’s singling out of Russia for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, was a much tougher approach than that of the White House on Monday.
Asked at the White House briefing about British Prime Minister Theresa May saying it was “highly likely” that Moscow was behind the attack, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the US was standing behind its ally and monitoring the situation.
“The attack was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible. We offer the fullest condemnation, and we extend our sympathy to the victims and their families, and our support to the UK government. We stand by our closest ally and the special relationship that we have,” she said without mentioning Russia once.
Tillerson, 65, wasn’t so diplomatic about Russia’s involvement.
“There is never a justification for this type of attack — the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation — and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior,” he said in a statement. “From Ukraine to Syria — and now the UK — Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.”
Tillerson cut short a five-day trip to Africa on Monday to work on pressing matters in Washington, his spokesman said, including the strict tariffs on imported steel and aluminum and Trump’s visit to North Korea — announcements Trump made last Thursday.