The Washington Post reported Tuesday morning that President Trump had fired long-embattled Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replaced him with CIA chief Mike Pompeo, who will require Senate confirmation to secure the job permanently.
The White House said that Trump made the decision last week, summoning Tillerson home from a trip to Africa. But the State Department denied that version of events, claiming that Tillerson was completely blindsided by Tuesday’s announcement. In a statement, a State Department official said that “The Secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security,” and that “The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason” for the firing.
Speaking to reporters, President Trump said he had made the decision to fire Tillerson himself, citing differences on the Iran nuclear deal as one area of discord between him and Tillerson. He added that he’s “getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.”
“I think Rex will be much happier now,” he said of the now-former secretary of State.
Gina Haspel, the deputy director of the CIA, will replace Pompeo if confirmed by the Senate, becoming the first female director of that agency. Haspel played a prominent role in the Bush-era extraordinary rendition program, which involved torturing suspected terrorism suspects at foreign “black sites.”
Trump and Tillerson have disagreed again and again since Trump took office, with Tillerson taking the moderate stance on issues from the Paris climate agreement to the Iran deal. The secretary has generally been cut out of the loop on major foreign policy moves, like Trump’s impulsive decision to meet with Kim Jong Un. And Tillerson once allegedly called Trump a “fucking moron,” a charge he never denied.
The two have also differed in their attitudes toward Russia; while Trump prefers to give Vladimir Putin the benefit of the doubt on almost everything, Tillerson has taken a more traditional and skeptical view of the country. On Monday, he strongly condemned Russia’s alleged poisoning of an ex-spy in England, providing a clear contrast to his boss’s stance.
On Tuesday, Trump equivocated on the matter: ”As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be,” he said.
Tillerson is also deeply unpopular within the State Department for his imperious management style and disregard for the traditions of diplomacy, which has led to a steady level of attrition throughout his tenure.
In a statement to the Post, Trump said:
“I am proud to nominate the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, to be our new Secretary of State,” Trump said. “Mike graduated first in his class at West Point, served with distinction in the U.S. Army, and graduated with honors from Harvard Law School. He went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives with a proven record of working across the aisle.”
Trump also thanked Tillerson for his service.