Rex Tillerson Out at Foggy Bottom, Mike Pompeo in as Secretary of State Nominee

Trump tells chief U.S. diplomat that it's time to go after months of rumors and behind-the-scenes policy and personality clashes, names CIA director as replacement

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 13 Mar 2018 at 12:40 PM

President Donald Trump abruptly announced via Twitter early Tuesday that he is replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and will nominate CIA Director and former Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo to take his place.

“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State,” Trump tweeted. “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!”

The president also made a little history Tuesday by announcing that Pompeo will be succeeded at CIA by Gina Haspel, a career civil service employee who is presently deputy director of the spy agency. Haspel is the first woman ever to be named to the post.

Her appointment came only hours after 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton told an audience in India that Trump wants to take the country "backwards" and fears gains in recent years by women in the workforce.

While speaking with reporters before boarding Air Force One to fly to California for an inspection of prototypes of the border wall he wants to build, Trump said he chose Pompeo to replace Tillerson because "I respect his intellect" and "we have a very good relationship" and had "chemistry" right "from day one."

"I've worked with Mike Pompeo now for quite some time. Tremendous energy, tremendous intellect. We're always on the same wavelength," Trump said. "The relationship has been very good and that's what I need as secretary of state."

Tillerson had been traveling in Africa until the president cut short his trip and called him back to the U.S. Tillerson apparently didn't speak with Trump about his decision, according to a Tuesday statement from Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

"The secretary had every intention of staying, because of critical progress made in national security," Goldstein said. "The secretary did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason."

Goldstein added that Tillerson "is grateful for the opportunity to serve and believes public service is a noble calling. He wishes Secretary-designate Pompeo well."

Trump admitted that he "really didn't discuss it very much" with Tillerson, noting that he "made that decision by myself." The president said he felt Tillerson had "a different mindset" and a "different thinking" that was at odds with Trump's vision for his administration.

Trump told reporters that he wishes Tillerson "a lot of good things" and believes the outgoing secretary of state "will be much happier now" that he's out of the Trump administration.

"But I really appreciate his service," Trump said.

Trump also noted that Haspel, the current CIA deputy director, would be the first woman director of the agency, should the Senate confirm her nomination.

"[Haspel] is an outstanding person who also I have gotten to know very well. So I've gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year, and I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want," Trump said. "But I think Mike Pompeo will be a truly great secretary of state. I have total confidence in him."

Related: Trump: NBC's Tillerson Story Is 'a Disgrace to Good Reporting'

Trump and Tillerson have had a tumultuous relationship that fueled rumors of an impending ouster or resignation for months. The president reportedly was furious when NBC News reported in October that Tillerson had disparaged him as a "moron" during a July 2017 meeting at the Pentagon. Reports circulated in December that Trump was considering replacing Tillerson with Pompeo.

Trump pushed back on the rumors in December, 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!"

The state department turnover is occurring at a crucial time, as Trump is preparing to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to discuss the cessation of nuclear and missile tests, along with the ultimate denuclearization of the peninsula.

PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter.

(photo credit, homepage image: Mike Pompeo, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore; photo credit, article image: Mike Pompeo, CC BY 2.0, by Hudson Institute)

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