Trump: “We were not really thinking the same.”
Developments on Day 418 of the Trump Administration:
Sudden Dismissal Points to Trump “Family and Friends” Foreign Policy
Donald Trump fires Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a tweet:
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
Tillerson’s departure had been expected for months. A White House faction, probably around Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, tried in November to force the Secretary of State’s departure by the end of the year, but Tillerson — while curbed in his messages — hung on. Meanwhile, CIA Director Pompeo — a Trump loyalist who reportedly has won favor by giving the President concise, easily-understood intelligence summaries that play to his views — has been talked up as the new Secretary of State.
However, if anticipated, the manner and timing took many people by surprise, including Tillerson. During a five-nation tour of Africa, he was told last Friday by Chief of Staff John Kelly, “You may get a tweet”. However, he did not connect it to his future. Returning to Washington late Monday, he did not hear from Trump before the Twitter firing, learning about the message from a top aide.
Tillerson later said that Trump did not contact him until the President made a phone call from Air Force One just after noon, more than three hours after the dismissal.
The turmoil around the departure also claimed another casualty, Undersecretary of Public Affairs Steve Goldstein. His offense was to give journalists an account of Tillerson’s removal, undermining the White House’s cover story that the Secretary of State knew of the plan last Friday.
Trump later told reporters about his decision, “We were not really thinking the same. Really, it was a different mind-set, a different thinking.”
Tillerson differed from Trump on a number of issues and approaches, as well as having to cover for many of the President’s inflammatory tweets that unsettled allies. The Secretary of State favored diplomacy rather than departure from the Iran nuclear deal. He also preferred the diplomatic route for North Korea, in contrast to Trump’s emphasis on military action — until the President’s surprise acceptance last week of an opening for a face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He was opposed to the US departure from the Paris climate change agreement, and took a firmer line on Russia in contrast to Trump’s reluctance to criticize Moscow, let alone implement sanctions ordered by Congress.
Last week Tillerson was overtaken by Trump on North Korea. A day after the Secretary of State — who had spurred the White House intrigue for his departure last autumn by revealing diplomatic talks over North Korea — said that negotiations were not imminent, Trump declared his forthcoming meeting with Kim.
Then on Monday, it was Tillerson who modified the US line, this time over the UK Government’s revelation of evidence connecting Russia to a nerve agent attack on former spy Sergey Skripal. In contrast to the White House’s refusal to name Moscow, Tillerson clearly supported the presentation by UK Prime Minister Theresa May.
It was unclear on Tuesday whether either event was the trigger for the long-developed plan to move Pompeo into Tillerson’s place.
Tillerson said he will formally depart on March 31, but has turned over all duties to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. In his farewell remarks, he thanked State Department staff but not Trump.
From Torture Claims to the CIA
Pompeo will have to go through Senate confirmation hearings next month, as will his replacement Gina Haspel.
Haspel’s hearings are likely to feature the long-standing issue around her involvement in torture of detainees after 9/11. She oversaw a CIA “black site” in Thailand where waterboarding, including of the prominent detainee Abu Zubaydah, was used.
However, the Trump team ultimately preferred a choice from inside the Agency rather than selecting an outsider such as Senator Tom Cotton, whose name had been prominent in last November’s discussions about a shake-up.
Meanwhile, Tillerson’s departure highlights uncertainty throughout the State Department, with eight of the top nine positions vacant after he and Goldstein were fired. Hundreds of positions are open or have been cut in the Department, amid Tillerson’s efforts to downsize.
The openings include the Department’s top negotiator for North Korea, after Joseph Yun announced his departure last month. The Trump Administration has never nominated an Ambassador to South Korea.
Trump’s Personal Aide Fired Amid Financial Investigation
Donald Trump’s longtime personal aide John McEntee is fired as he is investigated by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes.
McEntee was escorted from the White House on Monday, without even the chance to gather his jacket and other belongings.
Despite the investigation, the Trump campaign announced — only minutes after news of his departure — that McEntee will become a senior advisor for campaign operations.
McEntee was one of the few aides who did not have their access to Trump restricted last summer when John Kelly became Chief of Staff. He was a near-constant presence in the West Wing and in Trump’s residential quarters, as well as regularly travelling with the President.
He was scheduled to go to California with Trump on Tuesday before his firing.