On the last day of November, the New York Times ran a story headlined “White House Plans Tillerson Ouster From State Dept., to Be Replaced by Pompeo.”
President Trump objected to that and other reports, tweeting:
“The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon – FAKE NEWS! He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!”
Well, as we first learned yesterday from a Washington Post scoop, Tillerson has been ousted, with the president saying he’ll nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him.
So while it may have been premature news, it wasn’t fake news.
That Times piece was attributed to “senior administration officials,” and said Tillerson would be out “perhaps within the next several weeks.”
The president essentially confirmed this yesterday, telling reporters that “Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along, actually, quite well but we disagreed on things. When you look at the Iran deal; I think it’s terrible, I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently.”
As recently as Monday, the Times reported, “a White House spokesman berated a reporter for suggesting there was any kind of split between Mr. Tillerson and the White House because of disparate comments on Russian responsibility for a poison attack in Britain.”
It’s been obvious for many months that the two men had a tenuous relationship. The former Exxon Mobil chief, who was used to calling the shots and had no government experience, also seemed not to have control of the State Department bureaucracy.
And Tillerson never really seemed at ease in a public role. He did few interviews and almost never held news conferences. The country has very little sense of him as a person or a diplomat.
And of course there was the NBC story last October, which Tillerson never denied although a spokesman did, that he had privately called Trump a “moron.”
That same month, Trump tweeted that he told Tillerson “that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man … Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
When the president last week announced that he would meet with Kim Jong-un-right after Tillerson said there would be no negotiations—it was clear that the secretary was in bureaucratic Siberia. And Trump wanted to make a change before the North Korea summit.
And Tillerson made no attempt to play along with some blather about a mutual agreement. Although the Post said John Kelly told him Friday that Trump wanted to make a change, Tillerson seemed unaware as he cut short his visit to Africa that the time had come. He had Steve Goldstein, his undersecretary for public diplomacy, put out a statement saying “the secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security and other areas” and was “unaware” of the reason for his firing.
The White House promptly fired Goldstein, who undoubtedly would have left anyway as the new secretary hires his team.
Fourteen months is a short tenure for the top Cabinet member, but the president has every right to make a change, given their disagreements on Russia, Iran and North Korea. “I think Rex will be much happier now,” Trump said.
In Pompeo, Trump is getting a former congressman who seems much more aligned with his views and, more important, has far better chemistry with his boss.