Too Rex-y for the part
Way back on March 6, when a message of the day was “no chaos,” Trump declared: “I like conflict, I like having two people with different points of view, and I certainly have that.”
Now, not so much. The president is done with Rex Tillerson, the onetime Exxon CEO who aced his casting call to be Trump’s first secretary of state because he “looked the part.” Too often they didn’t see eye to eye.
Like when Trump tweeted ridicule of Tillerson’s push for talks with North Korea as “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” No matter that five months later, Trump — deliberately leaving Tillerson out of the loop — decided that he wants to talk to Kim Jong Un.
There were other clashes. As Trump covets a nuclear deal with North Korea, he’s leaning harder toward ending one with Iran, against Tillerson’s advice, but in sync with the president’s choice to replace him, CIA director Mike Pompeo.
“The Iran deal. ... So we were not thinking the same,” Trump said of Tillerson during an exchange with reporters (video here). “With Mike Pompeo, we have a similar thought process.” See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’s story for Newsday.
Trumpist trauma in Pa.
Officially, that special House election in Pennsylvania was deemed too close to call early Wednesday, even hours after polls closed. But Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory Tuesday night over Republican Rick Saccone based on his lead -- 641 votes with all precincts reporting.
The race, in a district outside Pittsburgh that Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points, drew hype as an acid test for Republicans heading into next fall's Congressional contests. Whatever the eventual outcome, Democrats will hail it as a strong performance and GOP strategists will worry about what should in theory have been an easy win.
The Twitter terminator
Of his departing secretary of state, Trump said, “I wish Rex a lot of good things. ... “I really appreciate his service.” Not enough, though, to give Tillerson a graceful exit. Unlike on his “Apprentice” show, Trump shrinks from firing people to their face.
White House officials said Tillerson was given a heads-up Friday while he was on an Africa tour. But Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein said Tillerson didn’t know he was out until Trump named Pompeo in a morning tweet.
Tillerson “did not speak to the president this morning and is unaware of the reason” for his firing, said Goldstein, who himself was fired shortly after contradicting the White House.
Janison: Foggy bottomed out
Tillerson leaves the State Department without a lengthy legacy of achievement, but Newsday’s Dan Janison catalogs what else history will remember.
Never before has a secretary of state been known to call a president a moron, for example. Never before have the commander in chief and the chief diplomat been so constantly and publicly at odds on the conduct of foreign policy. Getting fired on Twitter is and will remain a historic first.
Pompeo is a West Point graduate and former tea party Republican congressman from Kansas who drew notice for aggressively questioning Hillary Clinton during the Benghazi hearings.
He’s regarded as more hawkish than Tillerson on both Iran and North Korea, and, like Trump, has espoused hard-right views, including harsh comments about Islam and U.S. Muslims.
Unlike Trump, he has voiced strong alarm about dangers the United States faces from Russia and has stood by the intelligence community’s assessments on Russia election interference.
Torture in her resume
Trump chose a 33-year CIA veteran, Gina Haspel, to replace Pompeo at the agency, where she is now deputy director.
Haspel was deeply involved in post-9/11 counterterrorist operations. From 2003 to 2005, she oversaw a secret prison in Thailand where extreme interrogation techniques including waterboarding were used against terror suspects.
When those methods were exposed and came under scrutiny, she was among a group of CIA officials involved in deciding to destroy video evidence of the sessions.
Her defenders say she was acting under policies approved by the Bush-era Justice Department.
Fast exit, soft landing
John McEntee, Trump’s personal assistant, was fired by the White House after being refused a security clearance and was escorted out the door so fast he didn’t have time to collect his jacket or belongings, The Wall Street Journal (pay site) reported.
But McEntee, a former UConn quarterback who signed on with Trump’s first campaign in 2015, was quickly brought in from the cold. On Tuesday, along with news of his firing, came word he has been hired by Trump’s 2020 campaign as a senior adviser for operations.
NBC News, citing federal law enforcement officials, said McEntee is under investigation by the Secret Service over whether he committed serious financial crimes. CNN reported the investigation was being conducted by the Department of Homeland Security.
A binge of purges?
Trump signaled the shakeout isn’t over. “I’m really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want,” he told reporters.
CNN reports national security adviser H.R. McMaster may be among the next to go. Trump also is growing disenchanted with Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and is looking at Energy Secretary Rick Perry as a possible replacement.
Further down the road, chief of staff John Kelly may move on. Trump has also made clear his disdain for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, though there’s no report of any imminent move to boot him.
What else is happening
- No refunds. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen ignored a Tuesday deadline to respond to porn star Stormy Daniels’ offer to return her $130,000 hush-money payment and let her tell her story about an affair with Trump.
- The ICE man won’t lie-eth. The San Francisco spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement resigned because he said the agency wouldn’t correct repeated false statements by officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, about recent raids in northern California.
- Two former associates of Roger Stone say the outside Trump adviser told them he had contact with Julian Assange before it was known that WikiLeaks had hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, The Washington Post reported. Stone denied it.
- Trump moved closer to accepting British Prime Minister Theresa May’s allegations that Russia was behind the poisoning in England of an ex-spy and his daughter. “It sounds to me that they believe it was Russia and I would certainly take that finding as fact,” he said.
- On a visit to California, Trump inspected prototypes for his border wall and told a military audience there may someday be a “space force” fighting alongside the Air Force, Army and other branches of the military.