News

Trump fires Tillerson at State, replacing with CIA's Pompeo

Written by Josh Lederman and Matthew Lee/The Associated Press | Mar 13, 2018 1:03 PM
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President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, to travel to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Trump is beginning a two day trip to California and St. Louis. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

 

 

This is a breaking news story. As often happens in situations like these, some information reported early may turn out to be inaccurate. We'll move quickly to correct the record and we'll only point to the best information we have at the time.

(Washington) --  President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today and said he would nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him, ending Tillerson's difficult tenure by tweeting an ouster that had been long expected and yet was shocking in its abruptness.

"We disagreed on things," Trump said moments later, a diplomatic version of a difficult relationship with his top diplomat that included reports that Tillerson had called the president a moron in meetings with other officials.

Speculation that Tillerson would be fired grew with those reports last fall, and the secretary of state never personally denied their accuracy. It spiked again in November when White House officials told multiple news outlets of a plan to replace him with Pompeo. But Tillerson continued to hang on, pointing out that his doubters had yet to be proven right.

Trump's change puts an ardent foe of the Iran nuclear deal in charge of U.S. diplomacy as the president also dives into high-stakes talks with North Korea.

Trump mentioned differences over how to handle the Iran agreement, which he wanted to withdraw from. "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," Trump said.

The reshuffle comes at a time 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.

For Trump, the shift comes at a critical time for several key foreign policy priorities, including a decision on whether to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Iran deal that Pompeo has called "disastrous." Tillerson had long 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.

It 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.

The president said he was nominating the CIA's deputy director, Gina Haspel, to take over for Pompeo at the intelligence agency. If confirmed, Haspel would be the CIA's first female director

Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, has already been confirmed by the Senate for his current role at the CIA, making it extremely likely that he will be confirmed for the State Department role. Trump tweeted, "He will do a fantastic job!"

As for his relationship with Tillerson, Trump said, "Really, it was a different mindset. It was a different thinking."

Trump's early morning announcement took the State Department by surprise, barely four hours after Tillerson returned prematurely from a trip to Africa and just as officials had been preparing yet again to dispute rumors of his demise.

The circumstances behind the firing were unclear.

Two White House officials said Tillerson was told he was out on Friday. But Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein said Tillerson "did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason." He added that the former Exxon Mobil CEO "had every intention of staying" in the job because he felt he was making critical progress in national security.

The State Department said Tillerson only learned of his termination when he read Trump's tweet on Tuesday morning. Two senior department officials said Tillerson received a call from John Kelly, Trump's chief of staff, on Friday, but was only told that there might be a presidential tweet that would concern him. Kelly didn't tell Tillerson what the tweet might say or when it might actually publish, according to the official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.

Tillerson had told reporters on his plane he had cut short his trip by one night because he was exhausted after working most of the night two nights in a row and getting sick in Ethiopia. There were no obvious signs from his behavior or his aides on the plane that his departure was imminent.

"I felt like, look, I just need to get back," Tillerson said.

Dismissing Tillerson had been discussed at multiple levels for a long time, said a senior White House official, adding that the North Korea overture and invitation brought more urgency to the decision. Two officials said Trump wanted to have a new team in place ahead of an upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as well as trade talks.

The officials weren't authorized to speak publicly and demanded anonymity.

The former Exxon chief had been an unlikely pick for top diplomat, with no formal experience but a lifetime's worth of personal relationships with heads of state and powerful global figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was slated to retire from Exxon in March 2017 at age 65 under the company's mandatory retirement policy when he joined the administration.

Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Zeke Miller, Jonathan Lemire Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Washington, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

*An earlier version of this story appears below*

(Washington) -- President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today and said he would nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him, in a major staff reshuffle just as Trump dives into high-stakes talks with North Korea.

Trump announced the change in a tweet early Tuesday just four hours after Tillerson returned to Washington from a trip to Africa. Word of Trump's dissatisfaction with Tillerson and plans to replace him had circulated for months, even as Tillerson insisted he didn't plan to leave.

"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!"

Trump said that the CIA's deputy director, Gina Haspel, would take over for Pompeo at the intelligence agency. If confirmed, Haspel would be the CIA's first female director.

President Donald Trump is telling reporters that he made the decision to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "by myself."

He says he and ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "disagreed on things."

The president is adding that Tillerson will be "much happier now," and he appreciates his service. Trump says he and Tillerson had been "talking about this for a long time," and they had disagreed on issues like the Iran deal.

Trump cites their divergent opinions on the Iran nuclear deal. Iran agreed before Trump took office to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions. The president regularly criticizes the agreement as a bad deal and has repeatedly threatened to end it.

He spoke today of his desire to break the deal, but notes that Tillerson "felt a little bit differently, so we were not really thinking the same."

The president is praising the energy and intellect of his incoming Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who has led the CIA.

He says he and Pompeo have a "very, very similar thought process."

He spoke to reporters at the White House shortly before departing for Joint Base Andrews for his trip to California.

Rumors about friction between Trump and Tillerson were circulating last year. In October, NBC news reported that Tillerson called the president a "moron," something Tillerson never actually denied. Tillerson continued to insist his relationship with the president was solid and brushed off rumors of strain between them.

Two officials familiar with the situation said that Tillerson had been fired by Trump on Friday, while in Africa. There were no obvious indications as Tillerson flew home early Tuesday from Nigeria that his departure was imminent, nor that it was his last trip abroad as top diplomat.

But Tillerson had cut short his trip by one night, telling reporters he had been sick in Africa and had barely slept two nights in a row because of urgent, middle-of-the-night matters, including the North Korea announcement.

"I felt like, look, I just need to get back," Tillerson said.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is hailing Mike Pompeo as a "great decision" for next secretary of state.

Haley, who had her own contentious relationship with ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, congratulated Pompeo in a tweet and called him her "friend."

She wrote: "Great decision by the President."

Over months of speculation about Tillerson's future, Haley had been rumored as one possible successor.

Dismissing Tillerson had been discussed at multiple levels for a long time, said a senior White House official, adding that the North Korea overture and invitation brought more urgency to the decision. Two officials said Trump wanted to have a new team in place ahead of an upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as well as trade talks.

The officials weren't authorized to speak publicly and demanded anonymity.

Tillerson also was known for his Russia connections and would be Trump's most concrete outreach yet to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump's announcement came the day after the Republican-controlled House Intelligence committee announced it found no collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia.

Tillerson was slated to retire from Exxon in March 2017 at age 65 under the company's mandatory retirement policy. Paid $27.3 million last year, Tillerson has accumulated roughly $160 million in Exxon stock along with $149 million of unvested stock options, according a proxy statement the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission

Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Zeke Miller and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives at a military base in Subang, Malaysia, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

*An earlier version of this story is below*

(Washington) --  President Donald Trump ousted Rex Tillerson as secretary of state today, making a surprise Twitter announcement that he's naming CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace him.

"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!"

A White House official said Trump wanted to have a new team in place ahead of upcoming talks with North Korea and various trade talks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

There had been longstanding rumors throughout most of Tillerson's tenure of friction between Trump and his secretary of state, a former Exxon Mobile Corp. CEO.

In October, NBC news reported that Tillerson called the president a "moron," something Tillerson never actually denied. Tillerson continued to insist his relationship with the president was solid and brushed off rumors of strain between them.

Tillerson had just returned from a shortened trip to Africa hours before Trump's announcement. Trump offered no explanation for the change.

However, a top State Department official says President Donald Trump never explained to ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the reason why he was fired.

The undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Steve Goldstein, says Tillerson "had every intention of staying" in the job because he felt he was making critical progress in national security.

Two White House officials said Tillerson was told he was out on Friday. The sources weren't authorized to speak publicly and demanded anonymity.

But Goldstein says Tillerson "did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason."

Goldstein says Tillerson will miss his colleagues at the State Department and the foreign ministers he worked with.

Trump named Mike Pompeo, who had been CIA director, as his new secretary.

Goldstein said, "We wish Secretary Pompeo well."

Tillerson was slated to retire from Exxon in March 2017 at age 65 under the company's mandatory retirement policy. Paid $27.3 million last year, Tillerson has accumulated roughly $160 million in Exxon stock along with $149 million of unvested stock options, according a proxy statement the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

*An earlier version of this story appears below*

(Washington) --President Donald Trump has ousted Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, tweeting in a surprise morning announcement that Tillerson will be replaced by CIA director Mike Pompeo.

A White House official said Trump wanted to have a new team in place ahead of upcoming talks with North Korea and various trade talks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

There had been longstanding rumors throughout most of Tillerson's tenure of friction between Trump and his secretary of state, a former Exxon Mobile Corp. CEO.

Pompeo is to be replaced at CIA by Gina Haspel, Pompeo's deputy at CIA, Trump tweeted. She would be the first woman in that role.

Tillerson had just returned from a shortened trip to Africa hours before Trump's announcement. Trump offered no explanation for the change.

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