Rex Tillerson will leave his role as secretary of state, President Donald Trump announced in a tweet Tuesday morning.
Tillerson’s ouster has been months in the making — the New York Times reported back in November that Trump was working on a plan to replace Tillerson with Pompeo. Trump and Tillerson disagreed on several issues, including on the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. The two publicly butted heads when it came to North Korea, with Trump openly bashing Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts in October.
The secretary of state also reportedly called Trump a “moron” after a July meeting and was considering resigning at the time. When Tillerson’s reported comments surfaced in October, Tillerson held an awkward press conference during which he did not deny that he called Trump a moron. Tillerson later told CNN that he “never questioned his mental fitness.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo will take over as secretary of state, and his deputy, Gina Haspel, will become the new CIA director, according to Trump’s tweet.
The timing of Tillerson’s firing is unclear, with conflicting reports on when and how Tillerson found out that he would step down as secretary of state.
The Washington Post, which was first to report Tillerson’s ouster, reported that Trump asked Tillerson to resign last Friday, prompting Tillerson to cut short his trip in Africa. The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker later clarified that a White House official told Tillerson on Friday that his days were numbered. Bloomberg News reported that Kelly told Tillerson he would be fired without specifying when, however the Associated Press reported that Kelly only gave Tillerson a vague warning about an expected tweet from Trump.
The State Department said that Trump never spoke directly about Tillerson’s departure. NBC and CNN later reported that Tillerson found out he was fired from Trump’s tweet.
“The Secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security. He will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and the foreign ministers he has worked with throughout the world,” the State Department said in a statement. “The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes that public service is a noble calling.”
Trump, speaking to reporters outside the White House Tuesday morning, indicated that Tillerson was not very involved in the decision. Trump said that he and Tillerson “have been talking about this for a long time.” However, he also suggested that Tillerson was not given much of a heads up about the final decision.
“I really didn’t discuss it very much with him honestly. I made that decision by myself,” Trump told reporters.
Trump’s announcement that Tillerson would be leaving came shortly after Tillerson broke with the White House to blame Russia for the poisoning of a former British spy, but it’s not clear whether Trump made his decision to fire Tillerson before that statement.
Trump told reporters outside the White House that while he got along well with Tillerson, the two “had a different mindset” and “disagreed on things,” such as the Iran deal. He told reporters that he and Pompeo are “always on the same wavelength.”
“The relationship has been very good. That’s what I need as secretary of state,” Trump said of his rapport with Pompeo.
In a statement released by the White House Tuesday morning, Trump praised Pompeo and thanked Tillerson for his service.
“As Director of the CIA, Mike has 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. I have gotten to know Mike very well over the past 14 months, and I am confident he is the right person for the job at this critical juncture,” Trump said in the statement. “He will continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
“I want to thank Rex Tillerson for his service. A great deal has been accomplished over the last fourteen months, and I wish him and his family well,” Trump added at the end of the statement after praising Haspel.
A senior White House officials told reporters Tuesday that the President announced the change this week because he wants his new team in place ahead of talks with North Korea and negotiations on trade.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (R-NY) lamented the “instability” in the Trump administration in a statement on Tillerson’s ouster.
“The instability of this administration in just about every area weakens America,” he said in a statement. “If he’s confirmed, we hope that Mr. Pompeo will turn over a new leaf and will start toughening up our policies towards Russia and Putin.”
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