HOUSTON (FOX 26) - (AP) -- President Donald Trump unceremoniously dumped Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday — by tweet — and picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take his place, abruptly ending Tillerson's turbulent tenure as America's top diplomat and escalating the administration's chaotic second-year shake-up.
Tillerson was ousted barely four hours after he returned from an Africa mission and with no face-to-face conversation with the president, the latest casualty of an unruly White House that has seen multiple top officials depart in recent weeks. Citing the Iran nuclear deal and other issues, Trump said he and Tillerson were "not really thinking the same."
"We disagreed on things," Trump told reporters at the White House — a diplomatic take on a fractious relationship that included reports that Tillerson had privately called the president a "moron."
Appearing in the State Department briefing room for likely the last time, Tillerson's voice quavered as he described successes of his roughly one-year tenure: an economic pressure campaign on North Korea and a new Afghanistan plan.
"I will now return to private life, private citizen, a proud American, proud of the opportunity I've had to serve my country."
He did not mention Trump — other than to say that he'd spoken by phone to the president Tuesday while Trump was on Air Force One.
He said he would delegate all authority to Deputy Secretary John Sullivan, who will serve as acting secretary until Pompeo is confirmed. Tillerson will remain secretary in name until March 31, when he formally resigns his commission.
In an illustration of the gulf that has long separated Tillerson and Trump, the White House and the State Department vigorously disagreed about whether Tillerson had even been informed of his firing in advance.
Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein and other State Department officials said Tuesday morning that Tillerson hadn't learned he was dismissed until he saw Trump's early-morning tweet, and hadn't discussed it directly with Trump. Goldstein said the former Exxon Mobil CEO was "unaware of the reason" he was fired and "had had every intention of staying."
Then Goldstein, hours after making those comments, was fired, too.
"I'm a big boy," Goldstein told reporters later. Describing Tillerson's mood, Goldstein said: "He's accepting."
Multiple White House officials said that Tillerson had been informed of the decision Friday, while he was in Ethiopia. One official said chief of staff John Kelly had called Tillerson on Friday and again on Saturday to warn him that Trump was about to take imminent action if he did not resign and that a replacement had already been identified. Tillerson canceled his entire schedule that Saturday in Ethiopia, with the State Department telling reporters he was sick.
When Tillerson didn't step aside, Trump fired him, that official said.
All of the officials demanded anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.
"I think Rex will be much happier now," Trump said before flying to California.
Trump's change puts Pompeo, an ardent foe of the Iran nuclear deal, in charge of U.S. diplomacy as the president decides whether to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. Trump faces another deadline in May to decide whether to remain in the Obama-era nuclear agreement that he campaigned aggressively against.
Tillerson has pushed Trump to remain in the agreement and had been pursuing a delicate strategy with European allies and others to try to improve or augment it to Trump's liking. The president mentioned differences over how to handle the Iran agreement, "so we were not really thinking the same."
The reshuffle also comes amid a dramatic diplomatic opening with North Korea, with Trump set to hold a historic meeting with leader Kim Jong Un in May. Pressuring North Korea with sanctions and other isolation measures had been a top Tillerson priority, and he had been one of the administration's more vocal advocates for holding talks in some form with the North. When Trump ultimately accepted Kim's invitation for a meeting, Tillerson was in Ethiopia, though he said he spoke with Trump at 2:30 a.m., shortly before it was announced.
Tillerson's departure adds to a period of intense turnover within Trump's administration that has alarmed those both in and out of the White House. Top economic adviser Gary Cohn announced his resignation last week, not long after communications director Hope Hicks and staff secretary Rob Porter both departed near the start of Trump's second year in office.
Speculation that Tillerson would be fired grew last fall with the reports of his "moron" insult, which the secretary state never personally denied.
The president said he was nominating the CIA's deputy director, Gina Haspel, to take over for Pompeo at the intelligence agency. If confirmed, Haspel would be the CIA's first female director
Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, has been one of Trump's most loyal Cabinet members and quickly formed a close bond with the president, coming personally to the White House most days to deliver the President's Daily Briefing. Known for his blunt-talking style, Pompeo has already been confirmed by the Senate for his current role at the CIA, making it likely that he will be confirmed for the State Department role.
"He will do a fantastic job!" Trump tweeted.
But several Democrats quickly raised concerns about both Pompeo and Haspel, suggesting their confirmation hearings could be contentious. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Senate Intelligence Committee, accused Pompeo of being insufficiently tough on Russia and said he'd "demonstrated a casual relationship to truth and principle."
Pompeo said he was "deeply grateful" to be nominated and looked "forward to guiding the world's finest diplomatic corps" if confirmed. He also praised Trump, saying, "His leadership has made America safer."
On Tillerson's plane trip back from Africa, he had told reporters he had cut short his mission by one night because he was exhausted after working most of the night both Friday on Saturday and falling ill.
At the White House, two officials said Trump wanted to have a new team in place ahead of an upcoming meeting with Kim, the North Korean leader.
One senior White House official said that when Trump made the decision to meet with Kim while Tillerson was in Africa, an aide asked if Tillerson should weigh in on the matter. Trump said there was no reason to consult him because no matter what the group decided, Tillerson would be against it, the official said.
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Iran nuclear deal was in near terminal condition and on life support even before President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson's dismissal this week may hasten its demise.
As CIA chief and Iran hawk Mike Pompeo prepares to run the State Department, the Trump administration is weighing a speedier withdrawal from the agreement than even the president has threatened, according to two U.S. officials and two outside advisers briefed on the matter. They were not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
While such a scenario is unlikely, the fact it is being floated as an option may give U.S. officials more leverage in negotiations with European signatories to salvage the accord by toughening it. Two such negotiating sessions have already been held and a third is set for Thursday in Berlin.
Trump, who calls the Obama administration's signature foreign policy achievement the worst deal ever negotiated, has vowed to walk away from the 2015 agreement in mid-May unless Britain, Germany and France join the U.S. in addressing what the president says are its fatal flaws. These include no penalties for Iran's missile work and support for militant groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
The deal that was negotiated by the Obama administration and six other countries limits Iran's enrichment and stockpiling of material that could be applied to a nuclear weapons program. In exchange, Tehran was granted widespread relief from international trade, oil and banking sanctions. Trump's next deadline to extend some of those concessions is May 12, and he has vowed not to do so again unless the Europeans meet his demands.
Any U.S. withdrawal would likely crater the agreement. If the U.S. begins threatening fines and other punishments for sanctions violations, countries around the world are likely to curtail commerce with Iran. That could prompt the Iranians to walk away as well, and perhaps even restart nuclear activities banned under the accord.
An indication of the Trump administration's thinking could come Friday, when the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the European Union and Iran meet for a periodic review at the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna.
State Department policy planning chief Brian Hook, who is running the negotiations with Europe, will lead the U.S. delegation to the larger meeting in Austria's capital. Hook, who Tillerson leaned on heavily for policy advice and direction, could meet separately in Vienna with the Iranian delegation head, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi. For his part, Aragchi sees the writing on the wall. He told a parliamentary committee in Tehran on Wednesday that Tillerson's ouster was proof that Trump would pull out and promised that Iran would withdraw if the U.S. does.
In the U.S., Iran deal supporters braced for what they see as the inevitable. Pompeo "is certain to advise the president to withdraw the United States from our obligations under the nuclear agreement," said Diplomacy Works, a group of mainly former Obama administration officials that lobbies for staying in the deal.
Hook had been tasked by Tillerson with getting the Europeans to agree to as many of Trump's demands as possible, with an eye toward selling the president on extending the sanctions waivers. Doing so would buy U.S. negotiators time to deal with elements of the agreement Trump has disparaged - such as its expiration dates on key nuclear constraints - and missile and terrorism concerns.
With Tillerson gone, the emphasis will likely change.
The ex-oilman had waged an often lonely battle within Trump's Cabinet to save the deal. He succeeded for 13 months. But each time Trump faced another sanctions deadline, Tillerson met increased resistance to keeping the agreement alive.
In firing Tillerson on Tuesday, Trump in particular noted his disagreement over the Iran accord. Trump won't have that problem with Pompeo, who has lambasted the deal on a level similar to Trump, making clear the two men are of the same opinion.
Trump said that he and Pompeo "have a very similar thought process" on the deal.
As a congressman, Pompeo vociferously denounced the accord when it was struck.
"The (deal) can perhaps delay Iran's nuclear weapons program for a few years," he wrote at the time. "Conversely, it has virtually guaranteed that Iran will have the freedom to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons at the end of the commitment."
His stance and position with Trump could give Pompeo leverage with the Europeans that Tillerson never enjoyed.
U.S. officials said American positions have hardened over the past several weeks, notably on Iranian ballistic missile testing and the deal's provisions that allow Iran to gradually resume advanced atomic work. Because Iran and the Europeans refuse to renegotiate the nuclear deal, U.S. officials are seeking to create a supplemental agreement with Europe to address these matters.
At Thursday's meeting in Berlin, U.S. and the European officials are hoping to compare draft written proposals and combine points of agreement into a new document that could form the basis of a side deal.
U.S. and European diplomats say they're closer on long-range ballistic missile launches, inspections and new sanctions on Iranian-backed militant groups. Gaps are larger on medium-range missiles that could hit Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states and on the deal's particulars for when advanced atomic work can restart.
The U.S. focus turned to medium-range missiles after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Trump in Washington earlier this month. Iran maintains that it must have medium-range missiles to defend itself, an argument the Europeans have been sympathetic to.
The differences are even more stark on the sunset provisions, which are codified in the nuclear deal and which the Europeans and Iran regard as inviolable, according to the diplomats. One senior negotiator involved in the talks said last week that Europe is prepared to be "creative" in addressing the provisions but would not budge from opposing any measure that would punish Iran for activity that is otherwise permitted under the 2015 agreement.
Fired top diplomat Rex Tillerson says he's praying for America.
The outgoing secretary of state sent a message Friday to American diplomats that was obtained by The Associated Press. He tells them he will "pray for our country, our leaders and your efforts to make this world a better place than we found it."
Tillerson urged staff to ensure a smooth transition for his successor.
President Donald Trump fired Tillerson earlier this week. Trump picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take over the State Department.
Tillerson was widely criticized for trying to slash the State Department's budget and staffing, plummeting morale.
In leaving, however, he praised the diplomatic corps for their dedication, talent and patriotism. He also lauded their devotion, for serving far from home and often at personal risk.