WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday and said he would nominate Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo to be the top US diplomat.
“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!” Trump said in a Twitter post.
For months, media reports said the 65-year-old Tillerson, a former chairman and CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil Corporation, had sharp disagreements with the White House over US foreign policy.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that the president thanked Tillerson for his work over the 14 months that he held the post.
Trump said that Gina Haspel would replace Pompeo as head of the CIA.
Haspel will be “the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!” Trump tweeted.
The president decided to make the Cabinet changes at this time in preparation for the upcoming negotiations with North Korea and talks on different free trade agreements, the White House said.
“We were not really thinking the same,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House to fly to California. “Really, it was a different mindset, a different thinking.”
Tillerson, for his part, read a prepared statement at the State Department but refused to take questions from the press.
The former oilman said he planned to hand over his duties to Deputy Secretary John Sullivan.
“Effective at the end of the day, I’m delegating all responsibilities of the office of the secretary to deputy secretary of state (John) Sullivan,” Tillerson said. “My commission as secretary of state will terminate at midnight March 31st.”
The secretary of state said he would remain in his post to work on the transition to Pompeo, whose nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.
“What is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during a time that the country continues to face significant policy and national security challenges,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson said he had no plans to remain in government.
“I’ll now return to private life, as a private citizen, as a proud American, proud of the opportunity I’ve had to serve my country,” Tillerson said.
Trump acknowledged that he and the top American diplomat had disagreed on policy.
“We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things,” Trump said. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he felt it was okay? So we were not really thinking the same.”
On Oct. 4, NBC News reported that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” after a meeting at the Pentagon on July 20.
The State Department’s spokeswoman, however, said the report was false.
The top US diplomat, however, never confirmed or denied whether he had insulted the president in private, saying that he would not discuss “petty nonsense” and that Trump was “smart.”