Trump ousts Rex Tillerson as U.S. secretary of state

U.S. President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday after a series of public rifts over issues including North Korea and Russia, and nominated loyalist CIA Director Mike Pompeo to head the department. 

In a tweet Tuesday, Trump thanked Tillerson, and said he has nominated Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo. If confirmed, Haspel, currently deputy director of the intelligence agency, would become its first female director.

Speaking to reporters later on the White House lawn, Trump said he made the decision to replace Tillerson “by myself,” and added that Tillerson will be “much happier now.”

The move represents the biggest shakeup of the Trump cabinet so far and had been expected since last October, when reports surfaced about a falling out between Trump and Tillerson, 65, who left his position as chief executive of Exxon Mobil to join the administration.

Trump publicly undercut Tillerson’s diplomatic initiatives numerous times, including on Monday when Tillerson’s comments about Russia appeared to be at odds with those of the White House.

Tillerson also appeared out of the loop last week when Trump announced he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and become the first sitting U.S. president to do so.

Tillerson had just returned from a shortened trip to Africa hours before Trump’s announcement. 

A senior White House official said Trump asked Tillerson to step down on Friday, but did want not to announce it while Tillerson was on a trip to Africa.

The official also said Trump works well with Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas who is seen as a loyalist within the administration, and wanted him in place before the U.S. president’s planned talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and trade negotiations.

A top U.S. State Department official said, however, that Trump never explained to Tillerson the reason he was fired. 

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

Trump, speaking to reporters on the White House lawn on Tuesday, cited the Iran nuclear deal as an example of an issue that he and Tillerson disagreed on during Tillerson’s time as secretary of state. (Leah Mills/Reuters)

Trump and Tillerson, who had no diplomatic or political experience before becoming secretary of state, have diverged on policy numerous times, including over North Korea and Russia. On Monday, Tillerson sharply criticized Russia over the poisonings in England of a former spy and his daughter, directly blaming Moscow after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stopped short of doing so.

Adding to the pair’s tense hsitory, Tillerson was reported to have privately called Trump a “moron” in July after the president suggested a 10-fold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

His departure puts him on a long list of senior officials who have either resigned or been fired since Trump took office in January 2017.

Others include strategist Steve Bannon, national security adviser Michael Flynn, FBI head James Comey, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, health secretary Tom Price, communications directors Hope Hicks and Anthony Scaramucci, economic adviser Gary Cohn and press secretary Sean Spicer.

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