WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump unceremoniously dumped Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by tweet on Tuesday and picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take his place, abruptly ending Tillerson’s turbulent tenure as America’s top diplomat and escalating the administration’s chaotic second-year shake-up.
Tillerson was ousted barely four hours after he returned from an Africa mission and with no face-to-face conversation with the president, the latest casualty of an unruly White House that has seen multiple top officials depart in recent weeks. Citing the Iran nuclear deal and other issues, Trump said he and Tillerson were “not really thinking the same.”
“We disagreed on things,” Trump told reporters at the White House - a diplomatic take on a fractious relationship that included reports that Tillerson had privately called the president a “moron.”
In an illustration of the gulf that has long separated Tillerson and Trump, aides to both couldn’t even on agree on the circumstances of his firing.
Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein and other State Department officials said that Tillerson hadn’t learned he was dismissed until he saw Trump’s early-morning tweet, and hadn’t discussed it directly with the president. Goldstein said the former Exxon Mobil CEO was “unaware of the reason” he was fired and “had had every intention of staying,” feeling he was making progress on national security.
Hours later, Goldstein was fired, too.
Multiple White House officials said that Tillerson had been informed of the decision Friday, while he was in Ethiopia. One official said chief of staff John Kelly had called Tillerson on Friday and again on Saturday to warn him that Trump was about to take imminent action if he did not step aside, and that a replacement had already been identified. When Tillerson didn’t act, Trump fired him, that official said.
All of the officials demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.