Mar 13, 2018, 4:04 PM ET

Trump ousting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo


President Donald Trump is firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, tweeting this morning that he plans to replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Tillerson announced that he will delegate his official responsibilities to his deputy by the end of the day, though he will technically remain secretary through March 31.

Trump asked Tillerson to step aside Friday, a senior White House official initially told ABC News, but the State Department says Trump never spoke to Tillerson about the decision. The White House and State Department later clarified that Chief of Staff John Kelly spoke to Tillerson about the change Friday, with Tillerson saying in his first public comments today that he spoke to the president at around noon, more than three hours after Trump tweeted the announcement.

Explaining the move

PHOTO: President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confer during a working lunch with African leaders during the U.N. General Assembly in New York in this Sept. 20, 2017 file photo.Kevin Lamarque/Reuters, FILE
President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confer during a working lunch with African leaders during the U.N. General Assembly in New York in this Sept. 20, 2017 file photo.

Trump wanted to make sure he had a team in place before the recently announced talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the senior White House official told ABC News.

Trump believes he works well with Pompeo and the decision to replace Tillerson was not based on any single issue, the official said.

Trump, speaking briefly to reporters this morning before leaving for his trip to California, said he and Tillerson "disagreed on things.”

By contrast, Trump added, he and Pompeo are "always on the same wavelength" and "we have a very similar thought process."

"As far as Rex Tillerson is concerned, I very much appreciate his commitment and his service. He's a good man," Trump said.

"We got along quite well but we disagreed on things," he said, noting how he and Tillerson "felt a bit differently" on the Iran nuclear weapons deal.

"I actually got along well with Rex but really it was a different mindset. It was a different thinking," Trump said.

Tillerson and Trump have had tumultuous points in their relationship in the past. One public dispute came in October after reports that Tillerson called the president a "moron."

Trump released a lengthy statement praising Pompeo, 54, and his planned successor, Gina Haspel, concluding with two sentences about Tillerson.

"I want to thank Rex Tillerson for his service. A great deal has been accomplished over the last fourteen months, and I wish him and his family well," Trump said in the statement released by the White House.

Back and forth about who called when

PHOTO: Rex Tillerson speaks during a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria, March 12, 2018.Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images
Rex Tillerson speaks during a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria, March 12, 2018.

Trump's first public comment on the cabinet shuffle came on Twitter at 8:44 a.m. when he wrote: "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!"

A senior White House official initially told ABC News that Trump told Tillerson about the change Friday, but shortly after, Steve Goldstein, the State Department's then-undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, released a statement saying Tillerson did not speak directly to Trump.

"The secretary did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling," Goldstein said. "The secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security. He will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and the foreign ministers he has worked with throughout the world."

Goldstein was fired by the White House three hours after issuing that statement, which contradicted the White House's account of Tillerson's firing. Goldstein was the fourth-highest ranking official at the State Department.

The White House clarified that Kelly told Tillerson Friday he was going to be replaced.

In Tillerson's first public comments after the dismissal, he said he spoke to Trump at noon when the president was on board Air Force One en route to California.

How the past few days unfolded

PHOTO: Rex Tillerson speaks during a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria, March 12, 2018.Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP
Rex Tillerson speaks during a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria, March 12, 2018.

Kelly spoke to Tillerson Friday March 9, informing him he would be dismissed but without clarifying when the official public announcement would be made.

Tillerson canceled events in Africa the following day, citing illness.

Tillerson had spent much of his trip to Africa trying to make up for Trump’s derogatory comments in January when he referred to certain African nations as “s---hole” countries.

On Sunday, March 11, the former ExxonMobil CEO had cut a trip to Africa short Monday, citing “the demands of work and the need to be in Washington for in-person meetings.”

And then on Monday, while on the plane back to the United States, Tillerson delivered one of the harshest public rebukes of Russia from a top official in the Trump administration, saying he has grown "extremely concerned about Russia."

Tillerson cited the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England, saying "this is very, very concerning to me" and adding the attack "certainly will trigger a response."

Tillerson's time at State

Tillerson's time at the State Department was rocky, often at odds with his boss and unpopular with many of his employees.

He tried to overhaul the agency’s bureaucracy with a “redesign” meant to bring it into the 21st century. While it included some popular changes like updating IT and HR systems, it also called for a hiring freeze, buyouts and eliminating many special envoy positions — all of which earned the ire of employees.

Tillerson also spent much of his time making up for or trying to explain Trump’s tweets and rhetoric, seeking to reassure nervous allies in Europe, Latin America and other parts of the world.

Some of the biggest achievements of Tillerson's tenure included the strengthening of the global pressure campaign against North Korea, which involved securing support not just from allies like China or Russia, but other countries in Africa and Asia.

Prior to today's announcement, Tillerson was also trying to build consensus with European partners on a new side deal to contain Iran’s ballistic missile program, with Latin American partners on an oil embargo on Venezuela, and with India, Australia and Japan on writing the rules of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. It’s unclear which of those will continue under Pompeo.

Tillerson, 65, took over as head of the State Department in February 2017. He is the second agency secretary to leave Trump’s Cabinet after former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned in September over his use of private jets that were funded by taxpayer money.

Praising Pompeo

In addition to his laudatory comments about Pompeo to reporters before he departed for California, Trump also released a written statement praising his new pick for secretary of state.

"I have gotten to know Mike very well over the past 14 months, and I am confident he is the right person for the job at this critical juncture," Trump wrote.

Both he and Haspel, 61, require Senate confirmation.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, praised the decision on Twitter.

"Congratulations to my friend and soon to be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo! Great decision by the President," Haley wrote.

News - Trump ousting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo

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  • Murfski

    "I actually got along well with Rex but really it was a different mindset. It was a different thinking," Trump said. Definitely different thinking. Tillerson, for all his faults, is sane.

  • Jake the real Jake

    Tillerson: "finally I can get away from this moron"! sanity at last.

  • Bloemberg

    During his fairly short term, Tillerson gave the impression he was one of the few adults in the current administration. Pity he did not run for President - he would have been a huge improvement on what we have now. The big mistake he made was to accept the SOS position or even to be involved with the Trump administration in any way. He surely knows now it will taint him for the rest of his life

  • ctla567

    Its sad some people still want to work for Trump, a person made famous by his favorite motto "you are fired". Trump wont respect those who voted for him either. He'll toss them under a bus whenever he needs to.

  • Stephan Alexander

    So what

  • Peter Warlock

    Maybe Pompeo can tell us how many of his fellow Russian agents have infested the CIA? 1,000? 10,000?

  • Sorrythatyouasked

    He got to leave as a free man, unlike many in the WH who will get to leave in handcuffs. David Dennison chief among the rats.

  • mollydtt

    Don’t worry world. Pompeo will be gone in three, two, one.

  • d hershoneza

    I am far from being Trump supporter but Tilerson was a lousy Secretary of State and needed to get fired.
    During his time the State dept. became a line in the unemployment dept.
    Many of the career diplomats have left or got fired no replacements were hired and those who stayed were forced to play yatsi.
    Perhaps is was a directive by the White house but either way he made no dent in foreign policy that was run directly from the White house.
    The only mystery is why didn't he leave on his own accord some 6-7-8 months ago when it became apparent he played no roll in any foreign policy matters.

  • Morgan O'Rourke

    Another person who's been "trumped".

    He wanted to put on a show for all to see, he just never told anyone it was going to be a circus.

  • Tumbletee

    Fun fact: trump means f@rt in the UK. ;)

  • MAGreenA

    Trump the carnival barker regarding Tillerson. If I were Rex I would be happy to leave the mess Trump has created behind. Just heard too that Trump lifted the rules about treating farm animals humanely. He truly has no heart at all.

  • Lee Thompson

    Tillerson speaks out against Russia, supports the U.K.'s statement concerning the poisoning of the former Russian spy, and then he's fired. Trump just carried out Putin's directive to "take care" of the Tillerson problem.

  • Anti Fascist

    I wish a conservative would explain to me how this behavior equates to competent leadership.

  • SummerFan12

    This is probably just another Trump distraction because of the likely Republican loss in the PA election today!

  • John Perrigo

    Call me CRAZY, but doesn't this administration define the word?

  • duckkdownn

    "A White House aide fired for “serious financial crimes” got a job on Trump’s campaign the next day."

    You really CAN'T make this stuff up.

  • SummerFan12

    Outrageous! IMPEACH TRUMP! Simply put, Trump cannot work with anyone! HE is the PROBLEM. Record turn-over in the White House. Plus, with each firing and/or resignation, Trump shows the world that he wouldn't be able to even assemble a cohesvie baseball team, much less an effective administration. Horrendous leadership!

  • duckkdownn

    Suckabee's head must be ready to explode having to cram for today's fib session.

  • AtomicDog1

    Tillerson has some mighty powerful friends

  • AtomicDog1

    all kidding aside..and I dont want to sound bizarre..but Trump needs to cool his jets..the real powers that be in our country..people u have never heard of..are watching this comedy very closely..hopefully nothing bad happens to Trump

  • mik8888

    I bet Brad is wondering why he gets banned so quickly today...

  • AtomicDog1

    there are extremely powerful people in this country..far more powerful than the presidency..watching this very closely very closely

  • OliverWendellSr

    There's always the possibility that Pompeo won't be confirmed in this new role -
    remote though that is with his Tea-bagger backers.

  • Robin

    Dear Brad, you got yourself banned. And I'm sure it will happen again before the afternoon is over.

  • HamburgerHelperAgain

    David Brock troll farm? If we were trolls we would be elsewhere and not here.

  • Sarah Levine

    I'm hoping Rex joins Stormy on her all things Trump tour in the Spring. A good time will be had by all!