Donald Trump fires Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

The White House announces that Tillerson's replacement will be head of the CIA

By Matthew Rozsa
March 13, 2018 1:17PM (UTC)
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Rex Tillerson (AP/Cliff Owen)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's tenure has come to an end, as, on Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump shocked the world by saying that he has replaced his chief diplomat with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The decision to swap Tillerson for Pompeo was made by Trump on Friday, according to The Washington Post. Tillerson ended his trip to Africa early on Monday so that he could return to Washington, as a result of Trump's decision. The move was reportedly timed so that it would cause minimal disruption to the president's planned diplomatic talks with North Korea and trade negotiations.


The move does bring about at least one milestone: CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel, who is set to replace Pompeo as head of the agency, will be the first woman to serve as director of the CIA.

Although Tillerson appeared to have known that he was going to be fired before he publicly declared that the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter "clearly" came from Russia, the timing of Tillerson's firing is nevertheless likely to raise eyebrows. Trump had long feuded with Tillerson over the perception that the latter was "too establishment" in his thinking, despite the fact that Tillerson was the first secretary of state ever appointed, to have no prior foreign policy experience. Tillerson had also on occasion taken a tougher stand toward Russia than Trump, with the secretary of state even warning that America is still vulnerable to potential Russian electoral meddling, back in February.

Then again, it was also reported earlier this month that Tillerson had not spent any of the $120 million allotted to the State Department by Congress to thwart future meddling.


Trump and Tillerson's relationship had publicly deteriorated in the months after the 2016 presidential election. In October, it was reported that, three months earlier, Tillerson had described Trump as a "moron" after the president compared strategic troop levels to opening a restaurant in New York City. Trump had also publicly undercut Tillerson that same month when he expressed a desire to negotiate with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un — something that Trump himself would decide to do only five months later.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Donald Trump Gina Haspel Mike Pompeo Rex Tillerson. Russia