Tues. 12:30 p.m.: Trump replaces Tillerson with Pompeo in dramatic shakeup
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump unceremoniously dumped Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by tweet today and picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take his place, abruptly ending Tillerson’s turbulent tenure as America’s top diplomat and escalating the administration’s chaotic second-year shake-up.
Tillerson was ousted barely four hours after he returned from an Africa mission and with no face-to-face conversation with the president, the latest casualty in a White House that has seen multiple top officials depart in recent weeks. Citing the Iran nuclear deal and other issues, Trump said he and Tillerson were “not really thinking the same.”
“We disagreed on things,” Trump told reporters at the White House — a diplomatic take on a fractious relationship that included reports that Tillerson had privately called the president a “moron.”
In an illustration of the gulf that has long separated Tillerson and Trump, aides to both couldn’t even on agree on the circumstances of his firing.
Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein and other State Department officials said that Tillerson hadn’t learned he was dismissed until he saw Trump’s early-morning tweet, and hadn’t discussed it directly with the president. Goldstein said the former Exxon Mobil CEO was “unaware of the reason” he was fired and “had had every intention of staying,” feeling he was making progress on national security.
Hours later, Goldstein was fired, too.
Multiple White House officials said that Tillerson had been informed of the decision Friday, while he was in Ethiopia. One official said chief of staff John Kelly had called Tillerson on Friday and again on Saturday to warn him that Trump was about to take imminent action if he did not step aside, and that a replacement had already been identified. When Tillerson didn’t act, Trump fired him, that official said.
All of the officials demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
Trump’s change puts Pompeo, an ardent foe of the Iran nuclear deal, in charge of U.S. diplomacy as the president decides whether to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. Trump faces another deadline in May to decide whether to remain in the Obama-era nuclear agreement that he campaigned aggressively against.
Tillerson has pushed Trump to remain in the agreement and had been pursuing a delicate strategy with European allies and others to try to improve or augment it to Trump’s liking. The president mentioned differences over how to handle the Iran agreement, “so we were not really thinking the same.”
Though Trump and other officials said he’d been considering replacing Tillerson for some time, the president said he made the decision only recently and “by myself.” Tillerson will be “much happier now,” he said.
The reshuffle also comes amid a dramatic diplomatic opening with North Korea, with Trump set to hold a historic meeting with leader Kim Jong Un in May. Pressuring North Korea with sanctions and other isolation measures had been a top Tillerson priority, and he had been one of the administration’s more vocal advocates for holding talks in some form with the North. When Trump ultimately accepted Kim’s invitation for a meeting, Tillerson was in Ethiopia, though he said he spoke with Trump about it shortly before it was announced.
Tillerson’s departure adds to a period of intense turnover within Trump’s administration that has alarmed those both in and out of the White House. Top economic adviser Gary Cohn announced his resignation last week, not long after communications director Hope Hicks and staff secretary Rob Porter both departed near the start of Trump’s second year in office.