POMPEO TO REPLACE TILLERSON AS SECRETARY OF STATE
President Trump announced on Twitter that he wants CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as the new Secretary of State. Tillerson, who was traveling in Africa, was informed over the weekend by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly that he would be replaced, and cut short his trip to return home on Monday.
There was some internal disagreement about the actual process that had been followed in letting Tillerson go. Hours after the President's tweet, the White House also dismissed Steve Goldstein, Tillerson's top State Department spokesman. Goldstein had contradicted some elements of the official account of the firing, specifically about how Tillerson learned about his dismissal and whether or not he had spoken personally with the President. (NBC News reported that Tillerson learned of the move via Twitter.)
Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he had dismissed Tillerson due to ongoing foreign policy disagreements, including the Iran nuclear deal and the US approach to North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Recently, Tillerson was reportedly frustrated by President Trump's offer, again on social media, to have an in-person meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un while the Secretary was visiting Africa. Tillerson had been instrumental in pushing for a negotiated solution in North Korea, and reportedly did not like being left out of the loop on this process. Back in September, Tillerson told the press that the US was in direct communication with North Korea and ready to start the negotiations process; Trump tweeted the following day that Tillerson was "wasting his time." (The following month, the New Yorker reported that Tillerson had called the President a "f*&king moron" in a meeting of national security officials.) Reports that Trump and Kelly were considering a replacement for Tillerson first appeared in late November.
Some have connected the timing of Tillerson's firing to the ongoing situation in the UK, where a former Russian spy and his daughter were found poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent. (Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, remain in critical condition.) Just hours before being dismissed, Tillerson told reporters that the poisoning was “a really egregious act” that "came from Russia with the Russian government's knowledge." Tillerson's comments echo the British government's conclusion.
The White House, however, has yet to assign blame to Russia specifically for the poisoning. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the attack itself "reckless, indiscriminate, and irresponsible," but stopped short of blaming Russia, saying "they are still working through even some of the details on that."
The current Deputy Director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, is Trump's pick to replace Pompeo as the head of the agency. If confirmed, she will be the first woman in history to lead the CIA, which Trump referred to as "a historic milestone." Both Pompeo and Haspel will need to be confirmed by the Senate before formally assuming office. This could prove difficult, both because of the general difficulties Trump nominees have had through the confirmation process, and because of Haspel's connection with a CIA "black site" prison where so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" like waterboarding were employed.
The White House also dismissed President Trump's personal aide John McEntee on Tuesday, as he's currently under investigation for financial crimes by the Department of Homeland Security.