Tillerson Got a Warning: 'You May Get a Tweet'

Fired secretary of state says he'll return to private life as 'proud American'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2018 1:11 PM CDT
Updated Mar 13, 2018 2:01 PM CDT
Tillerson 'Is Unaware of the Reason' He Was Fired
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Nigeria's Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama hold a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria, March 12, 2018. Picture taken March 12, 2018.   (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)

Right on the heels of the news that Rex Tillerson was out as secretary of state came the news that Tillerson didn't know he was out as secretary of state and only learned that CIA Director Mike Pompeo was replacing him when the rest of the world did. Tillerson was on a flight back to DC from Africa that landed at 4am Tuesday, and the Washington Post reports Tillerson's rep, Steve Goldstein, had this to say a few hours later: "The secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security and other areas. The secretary did not speak to the president, and is unaware of the reason." He may have had an inkling, however. The New York Times reports that chief of staff John Kelly called Tillerson Friday to suggest he cut his trip to Africa short and added cryptically, "You may get a tweet."

  • Tillerson speaks: At an afternoon news conference, Tillerson said he received a call from Trump about noon Tuesday, roughly three hours after the president tweeted about his firing, per the Times. Tillerson said he would turn over all his responsibilities to deputy John Sullivan by the end of the day, though he would formally remain in his post until March 31. He added that he would return to private life as a "proud American."
  • A troublesome team: In explaining what went wrong, Jonathan Swan writes for Axios that Trump and Tillerson got off on the wrong foot, and that the friction didn't stop there. Tillerson's chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, "managed to make more enemies across the administration than perhaps any senior official, and Goldstein was outwardly disdainful of Trump.

  • Pompeo's advantage: One more point from Swan, who points out that while Tillerson spoke for the president while with foreign leaders, he wasn't taken seriously as Trump's mouthpiece because Trump regularly undermined him. But "there’ll be no separation between Trump and Pompeo. The outgoing CIA director has a close daily relationship with the president, and no member of Trump's Cabinet more enjoys the president’s trust."
  • Trump echoes that: In comments to reporters this morning, he had this to say, per CBS News: "Rex and I ... 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. So we were not really thinking the same. ... From day one I've gotten along well with Pompeo. ... We're always on the same wavelength."
  • So what's Tillerson's legacy? Don't ask. Vox doesn't have much good to say, recounting that 60% of his department's most senior career diplomats resigned under his tenure, that job applications sharply dropped, and that he struggled to appoint people to key positions (it specifies ambassador to South Korea). The money line from a George Washington University professor: He weakened state for a "generation."

  • On the flip side: The Post notes that Tillerson doesn't walk away with any big wins, but that some credit has to go to him for the talks Trump agreed to have with Kim Jong Un. It observes that "a part of his legacy is in his pushback on Trump policies Tillerson considered unwise and argued against, a battle he did not often win," among them the Paris climate agreement and the Jerusalem move.
  • Inside the department: Politico describes a department that's largely rejoicing at the news, with some officials saying they hope this also means Peterlin and policy chief Brian Hook, "whom they criticize for forming a protective and secretive clique around the secretary," will be shown the door. Goldstein, meanwhile, was fired soon after Tillerson, reports CBS News.
  • Nikki Haley reacts: The Week flags the UN ambassador's tweet after the news, which it characterizes as "secretly shady." She writes, "Congratulations to my friend and soon to be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo! Great decision by the President."
Meanwhile, the female nominee to replace Pompeo at the CIA has a controversial resume. (Read more Rex Tillerson stories.)

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