Trump Ousts Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Replaces Him With Mike Pompeo

Rex Tillerson fired
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/REX/Shutterstock

UPDATED WASHINGTON — Rex Tillerson is out as secretary of state.

President Donald Trump announced Tuesday morning on Twitter that Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director, will replace Tillerson, marking the latest shake-up in Trump’s administration.

Tillerson is the second cabinet member to depart, after Tom Price’s resignation last year as secretary of health and human services.

Gina Haspel will succeed Pompeo at the CIA, becoming the first woman in that role.

“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State,” Trump tweeted. “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!”

Tillerson’s spokesman said that he did not speak to the president before his firing and he was “unaware” of the reasons for his dismissal. There were multiple media reports that Tillerson found out about his firing via Trump’s tweet on Tuesday, but also that he was told on Friday by Chief of Staff John Kelly that he would be ousted.

“The Secretary had every intention of remaining because of the tangible progress made on critical national security issues,” said Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state, in a statement. “He established and enjoyed relationships with his counterparts.

“The Secretary will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and enjoyed working together with the Department of Defense in an uncommonly robust relationship,” Goldstein added.” The Secretary did not speak to the President this morning and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling and not to be regretted. We wish Secretary-Designate Pompeo well.”

Adding to the drama of the day, Goldstein himself was fired after issuing the statement about Tillerson, apparently because it contradicted the White House.

Tillerson gave brief remarks later in the afternoon, telling reporters that he would hand over responsibilities to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan at the end of the day, and that his official last day would be on March 31. He said that Trump called him at noon, three hours after his departure was announced.

He thanked the department’s career diplomats, but did not thank Trump.

Before leaving on a trip to California, Trump told reporters, “I actually got on well with Rex, but it was a different mindset.”

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Trump said, per a pool report. “We disagreed on things… The Iran deal… So we were not thinking the same. With Mike Pompeo, we have a similar thought process.”

Trump said that Pompeo had “tremendous energy, tremendous intellect, we’re always on the same wavelength. The relationship has been very good.” He said that he would be “speaking to Rex over a long period of time.”

Pompeo and Haspel will face Senate confirmation.

Tillerson’s exit has long been anticipated. The former CEO of Exxon Mobil was said to have clashed with the White House on issues like the Paris climate accord. He also appeared unaware of Trump’s decision last week to accept an offer to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Reporters who cover the State Department had been guessing how long into 2018 Tillerson would last.

Haspel is a CIA veteran who was appointed deputy director in February of 2017.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) attacked the upheaval in the administration as “instability” that “weakens America.”

“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.” Schumer said.

Tillerson’s tenure at the State Department was dominated on by the escalating tensions with North Korea, and he is leaving at a critical moment if Trump is to see through his meeting with Kim Jong Un. But Tillerson also was a controversial figure within the department, where there has been an exodus of many top career diplomats and a number of positions unfilled.