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Trump sacks Tillerson; CIA director Mike Pompeo to be new secretary of state

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WASHINGTON: President Trump on Tuesday unceremoniously fired his secretary of state Rex Tillerson while the cabinet official was on tour of Africa, making yet another abrupt departure in an administration with a dizzying turnover.

Trump announced that CIA director Mike Pompeo will be the new secretary of state, and Pompeo’s deputy, Gina Haspel, will succeed him as the CIA chief, becoming the first woman to head the spy agency.

There was the usual clutch of polite, smarmy statements from all sides, but the sacking of Tillerson was abrupt and humiliating, redolent of Trump’s reality TV style famously showcased in The Apprentice.

The secretary of state was visiting African countries last week when Trump reportedly phoned him on Friday to convey that he was going to

meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un
. Trump had previously berated Tillerson publicly on Twitter, saying he was wasting his time talking to North Korea, a line that had led the secretary of state to remark (just before Trump changed his mind) that there was no immediate prospect of talks with North Korea.

It is not immediately known what transpired in that phone call, but over the weekend Tillerson, who had finished visiting Djibouti and Ethiopia in course of a six-nation Africa tour, cancelled all his appointments in Nairobi, Kenya, citing unspecified illness. It was later announced he was flying back to Washington DC on Tuesday.

But Trump fired him even as he was returning to the capital, and Tillerson reportedly learned of it from Twitter, where the President announced his successor.

“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!” Trump tweeted.

The state department then released an extraordinary statement saying, “The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason (he was fired), but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling.”

Tillerson’s head was on the chopping block – as is everyone’s in the Trump circle – from literally the day he took the job, given the President’s style and mercurial temperament. His political obituaries were already being written after Trump undermined him or sidelined him on several issues, including the Iran nuclear deal (which Tillerson supported). Things went steeply south when it was reported that Tillerson had called Trump a moron, a claim that the secretary of state did not directly refute.

By November, rumors of his imminent departure were rife in Washington and archivists were digging to check which Secretary of State had the shortest stint in office. (Elihu Washburn, for two weeks, before he was sent as ambassador to France). But Tillerson dug in and let it be known that he was not going to leave despite Trump’s obvious lack of confidence in him.

The most public moment of shame came when Trump did not even bother to consult him – or any of his cabinet colleagues for that matter – before deciding to engage North Korea and accept the invitation to meet Kim Jong-un.

As he headed home on Monday, Tillerson was also sharply critical of Moscow’s purported role in the poisoning of a former Russian spy in London, and warned that it would almost certainly “trigger a response.”

On Tuesday morning, as Trump headed out to California for his first visit to the state after he became President, he told reporters that that he made the decision to oust his Secretary of State on his own and that he was a “good man” who would be “much happier now”.

“Tremendous energy, tremendous intellect,” Trump said of Pompeo. “We are always on the same wavelength. The relationship is very, very good, and that’s what I need as secretary of state.” No word yet on how long Pompeo will last.

The Tillerson sacking also overshadowed Trump literally turfing out his personal assistant, John McEntee on Monday. McEntee was escorted out of the White House after he was fired, reportedly for over an unspecified security issue.

Updated: March 13, 2018 — 2:04 pm

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