Exit stage right: Donald Trump replaces Rex Tillerson
US President Donald Trump has announced via tweet today that he will replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with the Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo.
The news marks the end of what has been a somewhat tense relationship between the White House and the State Department and although is not unexpected, the end appears to be abrupt. The tweet thanked Tillerson for his service and announced the first female director of the CIA, Gina Haspel.
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! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
Mr Tillerson has just returned form an official tour of Africa last week and he was apparently caught unawares by Mr Trump’s announcement that he would hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The two have distanced themselves since coming into office and both have frequently contradicted each other. Last year, Mr Trump publicly undermined the former Texas oilman by tweeting that he was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with nuclear-armed North Korea.
Even as recently as Monday, Mr Tillerson appeared to depart from White House talking points when he backed British authorities in blaming the Kremlin for the poisoning of a former Russian spy near his home in southern England. The secretary of state said the nerve agent attack “clearly came from Russia” and “certainly will trigger a response”. But earlier in the day the White House declined to point the finger at Russia.
Last October Mr Tillerson was forced to convene a news conference to deny reports that he was considering quitting and so clearly tensions have been sour for quite some time.
Mike Pompeo is seen as a Trump loyalist who performed a delicate balancing act at the CIA in managing frayed relations between the spy agency and a commander-in-chief who compared America’s intelligence services to Nazis. He is a former Tea Party representative from Kansas and his appointment is not considered to be overly surprising, with many having tipped for him to take over since October last year.
He is also considered to be someone who will put a different opinion to the President if he deems it reasonable and he has a slightly more hawkish approach to Russia than the President does.
His replacement at the CIA is Gina Haspel, a career spymaster who once ran a CIA prison in Thailand.
She has extensive overseas experience, including several stints as chief of station at outposts abroad. In Washington, she has held several top senior leadership positions, including deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action.
Haspel has come under controversy in the past for torture techniques that have been used on suspected terrorists. However, Trump has praised Haspel and noted her and Pompeo “have worked together for more than a year, and have developed a great mutual respect.”