President Donald Trump characterized his decision in making a change at the State Department today as being one of compatibility. “For whatever reason, chemistry…for whatever reason, why do people get along?” the President asked rhetorically, in talking about CIA Director Mike Pompeo, whom the President nominated to the be the next Secretary of State.
“We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things,” the President said of Tillerson. “When you look at the Iran Deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break or do something, and he felt a lit bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same.”
“With Mike…we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well. Rex is a very good man. I like Rex a lot. I really appreciate his commitment and his service and I’ll be speaking with Rex over a long period of time,” the President said from the South Lawn of the White House before departing for California to review prototypes for the border wall that is to be built along the southern border with Mexico.
The President announced Tillerson’s dismissal and Pompeo’s nomination in a Tweet this morning shortly before 9 a.m., writing, “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!”
Shortly after that announcement, Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein released a statement that seemed to indicate that Tillerson had been blindsided by the announcement. “The Secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security…The secretary did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling,” the statement read.
Shortly after releasing the statement, Goldstein was fired as well.
Some reports indicate that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had spoken with Tillerson last Friday while Tillerson was on a week-long trip to Africa. Kelly reportedly told him that the President had intended to ask for Tillerson’s resignation but did not indicate when that might take place. Kelly then reportedly called Tillerson again on Saturday, saying that the move by the President was “imminent.”
Other reports say that Kelly only told Tillerson on Friday that the President would write a note on Twitter that would concern Tillerson but did not elaborate further.
The President said that he and Tillerson had been talking about a change “for a long time” before departing for California.
Whatever the circumstances, Tillerson, in a statement delivered from the briefing room at the State Department, seemed emotional. His voice cracking at times, Tillerson thanked the various agencies, staff and foreign counterparts he worked with over the last year and said that he would use his remaining time in his post to ensure an orderly transition to Secretary-designate Pompeo.
He also warned Russia about the path it’s currently on. “And much work remains to respond to the troubling behavior and actions on the part of the Russian Government…Continuing on their current trajectory is likely to lead to greater isolation on their part, a situation which is not in anyone’s interest,” he said.
Notably, Tillerson did not thank the President or otherwise mention him in his departing remarks.
Tillerson and the President have had numerous differences of opinion in the close-to-fourteen months that they worked together. The President tweeted once that Tillerson should stop “wasting his time” negotiating with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un after Tillerson had spent months exploring the possibility of negotiations, and Tillerson reportedly called the President a “moron” for wanting to have more nuclear weapons than any other President.
Whenever asked about the comment, Tillerson would repeat that he refused to engage in “the games of Washington,” but never directly denied using that word.
In his comments today about Tillerson from the South Lawn, the President said be he believed this would be a positive for Tillerson. “I wish Rex a lot of good things. I think he’s going to be very happy. I think Rex will be much happier now…” he said.