Donald Trump has fired secretary of state Rex Tillerson, replacing him with CIA director Mike Pompeo. Deputy CIA director Gina Haspel will become the first woman to run the spy agency.
Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, was largely sidelined as secretary of state, repeatedly undercut by Trump and left out of major decisions like the looming diplomatic talks with North Korea. They disagreed on topics from Iran to the Paris climate accord. The US secretary of state also reportedly called his boss a “moron” in a Pentagon conversation about national security.
According to a statement from the State Department about the firing, Tillerson “did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason.”
Tillerson was fired hours after saying that the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in Britain was a “a really egregious act” that appears to have “clearly” come from Russia, contradicting the White House position on the issue. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday that the US stands by its ally, the UK, but refused to say that Russia was behind the poisoning, as British prime minister Theresa May has. Tillerson also pushed back on White House enthusiasm for a meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un on Monday, saying plans were in the “very early stages.”
Rumors abounded for months that Tillerson might resign. In December, he described a reporter’s question about stepping down as “ridiculous.”
Trump described Tillerson has having a “different mindset,” as he boarded a plane for California. “Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along, actually, quite well but we disagreed on things. When you look at the Iran deal; I think it’s terrible, I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently,” he said.
In the White House’s official statement, Trump praised Pompeo, and thanked Tillerson as an afterthought:
I am proud to nominate the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, to be our new Secretary of State. 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.
As Director of the CIA, Mike 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 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.
His experience in the military, Congress, and as leader of the CIA have prepared him well for his new role and I urge his swift confirmation.
Gina Haspel, the Deputy Director of the CIA, will be nominated to replace Director Pompeo and she will be the CIA’s first-ever female director, a historic milestone. Mike and Gina have worked together for more than a year, and have developed a great mutual respect.
Finally, I want to thank Rex Tillerson for his service. A great deal has been accomplished over the last fourteen months, and I wish him and his family well.
In a statement of his own, the new secretary of state Mike Pompeo quoted the president’s State of the Union speech, promising to work to keep the US “safe and strong and proud and mighty and free.”
Pompeo, a former congressman, said in January that he has “every expectation” that Russia will continue to attempt to influence US elections, including the midterm races now getting underway.