Trump’s firing of Tillerson puts president in direct control of US foreign policy

UPDATE — 3/16, 8:58 p.m. EDT: Multiple media outlets have retracted reports of CIA director-designate Gina Haspel’s oversight of a Thailand “black site” in 2002, where al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah was subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. 

According to former CIA associates, Haspel was not in-charge of the site during Zubaydah’s waterboarding, but assumed the role toward the end of October 2001 when another al-Qaeda leader, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was thrice waterboarded.


In a not totally unexpected move Tuesday, President Trump announced in a tweet Rex Tillerson will be replaced as secretary of state by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

While political observers were not shocked by the news in the wake of Tillerson’s reported comments at a closed-door Pentagon meeting in July 2017 in which he called the president a “moron” and allegedly threatening to resign after Trump’s Boy Scout Jamboree speech shortly thereafter, a State Department statement said the secretary was not personally informed of his firing and had not been given a reason for his release.

An anonymous White House aide told multiple media outlets, however, that Trump had asked Tillerson to resign Friday prior to his early return home from a diplomatic trip to Africa cut short due to “the need to be in Washington for in-person meetings.”

Seemingly at odds with Trump over America’s diplomatic approach, the president later explained to reporters Tillerson had “a different mindset”, specifically citing a difference of opinion on the Iran nuclear deal which the former Exxon Mobil CEO supported.

An administration official also said Trump and Tillerson disagreed on how to handle North Korea and the president wanted to install a state secretary who fell in line before agreed upon talks with the rogue state take place within the coming months.

“We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things,” Trump said of Tillerson. “When you look at the Iran deal: I think it’s terrible, I guess he thinks it was OK. I wanted to break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not thinking the same.”

In Pompeo, Trump said he’s found someone that is “always on the same wavelength” and has “a very similar thought process.”

Despite new-found symmetry between the White House and State Department on foreign policy if Pompeo is confirmed by the Senate in April, congressional Democrats and some Republicans appear to be critical of Tillerson’s ouster, as the soon-to-be newly-lead Foggy Bottom will now trend toward a more unstable approach to diplomatic issues.

“That (Trump) chose to dismiss his secretary of state in a manner more reminiscent of an episode of ‘The Apprentice’ than the respect he’s due for his service — at the exact moment that diplomacy is essential to securing some path forward with North Korea — strikes me as just irresponsible,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Responding to the news, State Department personnel told Politico they were relieved by Tillerson’s departure, as the secretary’s goal from the start was to cut back on bureaucracy and rely solely on top aides instead of career diplomats for policy advice.

Tillerson spoke Tuesday afternoon at press briefing, naming Deputy Secretary John Sullivan as acting head of the department until a permanent replacement is confirmed.

Trump said he will nominate CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo, who will become the first woman to head the agency.

In 2002, Ms. Haspel oversaw the CIA’s terrorist detention center in Thailand and was accused of destroying video evidence showing the torture of two suspects during interrogations. Haspel was later promoted as a top as aide to National Counterterrorism Center Director Jose Rodriguez, who ran an “enhanced interrogation” program at CIA black sites around the world.


Editor’s note: Three of the last four paragraphs of this article have been updated.


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