WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, ending their embattled relationship via a morning tweet that announced the nation’s top diplomat would be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State,” Trump tweeted just before 9 a.m. “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!”
The new appointments, which must first be confirmed by the Senate, come as Trump prepares to enter rare talks with North Korea and as the president continues to face criticism from global allies over a pair of tariffs he imposed last week on imported steel and aluminum. The announcement also follows months of tense relations between Trump and Tillerson, a former CEO of ExxonMobile who beat out a slew of Trump allies for the secretary of state post.
A senior White House official said Trump wanted “to make sure to have his new team in place in advance of the upcoming talks with North Korea and various ongoing trade negotiations.”
Tillerson, who returned early Tuesday morning from a diplomatic trip to Africa, “had every intention of staying,” in his job and was unaware of the specific reasons behind his ouster, a top State Department official told reporters Tuesday morning.
Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, told reporters Tillerson “did not speak to the president this morning and is unaware of the reason” for his firing. Goldstein was terminated from his role hours later by the White House.
Tillerson, in an afternoon news conference at the State Department, said he first spoke with Trump via phone shortly after noon, hours after learning that he had been pushed out of his role. He did not detail what was said during the conversation, and did not list Trump among the many people he thanked in his brief remarks. Tillerson said he would hand off his day to day duties to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan until his final day on March 31.
“What is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during a time that the country continues to face significant policy and national security challenges,” Tillerson said.
Trump’s latest staff shake-up came as he prepared to depart for a two-day trip to California and Missouri. Speaking to reporters before leaving the White House, Trump cited disagreements over policy decisions as a factor in his decision to fire Tillerson, including a 2015 nuclear agreement reached with Iran under the Obama administration that Trump has described as weak and has said the U.S. should pull out of or renegotiate.
Meanwhile, Trump lauded Pompeo’s work as head of the CIA, and said they were both on the same “wavelength.”
Pompeo in a statement said: “If confirmed, I look forward to guiding the world’s finest diplomatic corps in formulating and executing the President’s foreign policy.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced Tuesday it expects to hold a hearing on Pompeo’s nomination in April.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in selecting Pompeo, Trump “has called upon a brilliant, tough-minded leader to guide our diplomatic corps through challenging days ahead.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said, “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.”
Tillerson’s removal comes a week after Trump announced he had accepted an invitation from North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un to meet. The president, signaling at his loss of confidence in Tillerson, said Tuesday he did not consult with him when deciding on the meeting. Trump also previously criticized Tillerson’s attempt to strike diplomatic talks with North Korea.
Last October, NBC News reported that Tillerson in a meeting with Pentagon members called Trump a “moron.” Tillerson refused to deny making the comments when pressed by reporters on multiple occasions.