Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been ousted by President Trump, who plans to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him as the nation’s top diplomat, a major change to the president’s national security team amid delicate outreach that includes possible talks with North Korea.
Trump and Tillerson have had many arguments over strategy in key areas of foreign policy, such as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the approach to North Korea and the overall tone of U.S. diplomacy.
Trump told reporters Tuesday that he ultimately decided to fire the secretary.
According to the Washington Post, as Tillerson was traveling through Africa last week, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly called to wake him up very early Saturday morning to alert him that Trump had decided to replace him. Kelly then suggested that Tillerson return to Washington as soon as possible. Tillerson cut his trip short Monday.
However, Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said that Tillerson was “unaware of the reason” for his firing and had not spoken directly with Trump.
According to Goldstein, Kelly only told Tillerson to expect a tweet from Trump, but it was not conveyed that the decision to fire him was final.
Goldstein said Tillerson did not find out about his termination until today. He was promptly fired for contradicting the White House.
When he was asked about the accusation, Goldstein said, “I spoke for the secretary of state. That was part of my role as the undersecretary.”
Remarkable statement from State Department spokesman on Tillerson firing: pic.twitter.com/iBpLaK1tXw
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 13, 2018
The Wall Street Journal reported that the overall relationship between Trump and Tillerson had long been awkward.
In addition, the Journal mentioned that Tillerson was not Trump’s first candidate for the role of secretary of state.
Though Trump had first considered other candidates — former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — the new president was sold on Tillerson by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Harold Hamm, an oil billionaire and GOP donor.
“Man, when there was a big find in a country, nobody had a chance when Rex went in to get it — Rex would go in, and it would be over,” Mr. Hamm told the incoming president, said one person familiar with the conversation.
According to The New York Times Trump said that he and Tillerson just weren’t thinking the same and announced as much on Twitter.
“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. 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!”
Trump has also said that Tillerson will be much happier now that he has been relieved of his duties.
Tillerson was an Exxon executive before taking the secretary of state position and is estimated to have a personal fortune of over $300 million.