President Donald Trump fired his secretary of state on Tuesday without telling him personally, announcing on Twitter that he would dismiss Rex Tillerson and elevate the nation’s spymaster to the role of global diplomat-in-chief.
And he said he will appoint a woman to lead the CIA for the first time in history.
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steven Goldstein said in a statement that Tillerson ‘had every intention of staying.’
‘The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve,’ Goldstein added.
Despite the awkwardness of the moment for Tillerson, the president took the public spotlight for himself.
As he left the White House for a trip to California, Trump told reporters that he and Tillerson had been ‘talking about this for a long time’ but that he ‘made the decision by myself.’
‘We disagreed on things,’ Trump said, citing the Obama-era nuclear agreement with Iran.
‘I think Rex will be much happier now,’ he declared.
‘We were not really thinking the same. With Mike, Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well.’
He gushed that the future secretary as Mike Pompeo has ‘tremendous energy, tremendous intellect, we’re always on the same wavelength. The relationship has been very good.’
The president had tweeted earlier that Pompeo ‘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!’
Haspel was the CIA’s deputy director, a career officer who was a longtime clandestine officer.
In a statement, Trump said Pompeo ‘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.’
He called Haspel’s move to the CIA’s reins ‘a historic milestone.’
Trump also had words of praise for Tillerson: ‘A great deal has been accomplished over the last fourteen months, and I wish him and his family well,’ he said.
The president, however, had clashed with Tillerson over and over again in the past year, seeing him as a relic of the Republican establishment at a time when the nation needed more unconventional thinking.
The Washington Post reported that Tillerson was ousted on Friday, meaning that the White House known best for leaking information kept it a secret all weekend.
The outgoing diplomat’s last act in office was a shot across Vladimir Putin’s bow, saying Monday that the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in the UK ‘clearly came from Russia’ – and vowing to respond – hours after the White House refused to blame the Kremlin.
In a strongly worded statement, he slammed Russia as an ‘irresponsible force of instability in the world’ and gave the British government his backing after Prime Minister Theresa May pointed her own finger toward Moscow.
‘We have full confidence in the UK’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack that took place in Salisbury last week,’ Tillerson said Monday.
‘There is never a justification for this type of attack, the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation, and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior.
‘Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.’
He added that those responsible ‘must face appropriately serious consequences.’
Trump seemed to back him up on Tuesday, saying that he would be speaking with May later in the day.
‘It sounds to me like it would be Russia,’ he said, ‘based on all of the evidence that they have.’
Tillerson made the remarks during his trip to Africa just hours after the the White House broke a week-long silence to condemn the chemical attack, but declined to mention Moscow.’
Trump had repeatedly crossed swords with the former Exxon Mobil executive, including a public episode in October where the president chided him on Twitter for ‘wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man’ – a reference to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.
Foreign policy veterans said at the time that they couldn’t recall an instance where a sitting president had undermined his secretary of state in such a humiliating fashion.
But five months later the president himself accepted Kim’s invitation for a face-to-face meeting over the hermit kingdom’s nuclear missile program.
Tillerson raised eyebrows in Washington last year with reports that he had called Trump a ‘moron’ following a national security meeting in July about America’s nuclear posture.
He never directly denied making the caustic remark, leaving that to a State Department spokeswoman. Trump said the same day that he had ‘total confidence in Rex.’
Later that month, newly installed White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis begged Tillerson to stay on.
The following month, after Trump angered Americans on both sides of the aisle with tone-deaf comments about the role of neo-Nazis in a Virginia race riot, a furious Tillerson declined to defend him.
‘The president speaks for himself,’ Tillerson said at the time during a ‘Fox News Sunday’ interview.
Even then, the White House outwardly professed comfort with Tillerson and confidence in his abilities.
Haspel will need to face a Senate confirmation hearing.
Pompeo will not, because the Senate confirmed him as the CIA director just three days into the Trump administration.
Trump said that his incoming secretary of state ‘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,’ he added.
‘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.’