WASHINGTON – After months of disputes with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, President Trump removed him Tuesday and nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo to head the State Department.
White House officials said a Tillerson aide was also fired for giving reporters differing accounts of how the secretary of State learned of his fate. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the move.
The officials said they are bracing for more staff changes, citing Trump’s comment Tuesday as he prepared to fly to California: “I’m really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.”
Tillerson, who said Trump called him hours after he tweeted an announcement about Pompeo’s nomination, said his last day would be March 31, and he pledged an “orderly and smooth transition.”
Trump said he made the decision on Tillerson, citing disagreements with the secretary of State that included North Korea diplomacy, steel and aluminum tariffs and the Iran nuclear agreement.
“I think Rex will be much happier now,” Trump said.
Tillerson, whose voice cracked at times during a brief statement at the State Department, did not take questions.
Steve Goldstein, the Tillerson aide who was fired, said Tillerson wanted to stay as secretary of State.
As for Pompeo, Trump praised his new nominee’s “tremendous energy, tremendous intellect” and said, “We’re always on the same wavelength. The relationship has been very good, and that’s what I need as secretary of State.”
Trump said in a written statement that at the State Department, Pompeo “will continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Before his departure to California, Trump said he got along with Tillerson, but they disagreed on things. Trump cited the Iran nuclear deal in particular: “I think it’s terrible. I guess he feels it was OK.”