“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job!” Mr Trump tweeted. “Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service!” he added. Mr Trump announced the appointment of Gina Haspel to replace Mr Pompeo as head of the CIA. She is the first woman to be tapped for the post.
The manner of Mr Tillerson’s dismissal quickly came under scrutiny as it emerged Mr Trump didn’t even bother to talk to him directly before announcing it to the world. Mr Tillerson found out he had lost his job when a top aide showed him Mr Trump’s tweet. In a farewell speech at the State Department, Mr Tillerson said the president had called him from Air Force One shortly after midday – more than three hours after his announcement on Twitter.
“I’ll now return to private life as a private citizen, as a proud American, proud of the opportunity I had to serve my country,” he said. Mr Tillerson thanked his fellow diplomats, State Department colleagues and the American people. Notably, he did not thank Mr Trump.
The sacking wasn’t entirely without warning. According to the New York Times, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had warned Mr Tillerson something was coming in a phone call on Friday. “You may get a tweet,” Mr Kelly reportedly told him. Another top State Department official was also fired today after issuing an extraordinary statement throwing shade at the president.
Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, told the media Mr Tillerson “had every intention of staying because of critical progress made in national security,” and claimed the Secretary of State was “did not speak to the president and was unaware of the reason” for his sacking.
Shortly after Mr Goldstein made that statement, the White House told him he too was fired. Reaction to Mr Tillerson’s sacking has been typically polarised, with some pundits calling Mr Trump a “coward” for failing to do it to Mr Tillerson’s face, and others pointing out the president needs a secretary of state who shares his views.
Trump became a household name with his signature “You’re fired!” TV line. But in two high-profile, real-life instances, Comey and now Tillerson, he didn’t even speak to the person being fired.
— Julie Bykowicz (@bykowicz) March 13, 2018
Fired Comey by rumor and Tillerson by tweet. Trump is such a coward.
— Christopher Moore (@TheAuthorGuy) March 13, 2018
For a President who made millions off of the catch phrase "You're Fired", Trump sure was a coward when he had to actually tell Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "You're Fired".
The Loser had to do it via Twitter!
— Ed Krassenstein ? (@EdKrassen) March 13, 2018
So Trump fires another person while that person was traveling. For a guy whose career was based on “You’re fired!”, I’ve never seen someone more afraid to fire someone face-to-face. What a coward.
— Greg Shugar (@GregShugar) March 13, 2018
Mr Trump echoed the latter sentiment while telling reporters he made the decision to oust Mr Tillerson “by myself”. He said Mr Tillerson will be “much happier now,” acknowledging the fact that the pair had butted heads on a number of issues.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time … We disagreed on things … The Iran deal … So we were not thinking the same,” Mr Trump said. Mr Trump said he and Mr Pompeo shared “a similar thought process” and that his new appointment was a man with “tremendous energy, tremendous intellect” and that “we’re always on the same wavelength”. The undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Steve Goldstein, released an extraordinary statement saying Mr Trump never explained to Mr Tillerson the reason why he was fired.
“The Secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security,” Mr Goldstein said in a statement. “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.” Hours later, the White House fired Mr Goldstein by phone. He had been in the role only three months.
Rumours had been swirling since late last year that Mr Tillerson would be departing. A senior administration source said Mr Trump had decided on the ouster to “have his new team in place in advance of the upcoming talks with North Korea and various ongoing trade negotiations”.
Mr Tillerson had last week appeared blindsided by Mr Trump’s historic decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Mr Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, reportedly called Mr Trump a “moron” after a July 20 meeting with the US president.