Rexit (and Pompin)

Ken AshfordForeign Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

And now, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is out. To show you how ineffective this White House is, there isn’t a straight story about when/how this occurred.

The news reported Tillerson found out due to a tweet, according to Steve Goldstein, undersecretary for public diplomacy:

And here Trump’s tweet:

But Goldstein also said this:

This conflicted with the White House narrative that Tillerson was told on Friday, and he cut his Africa trip short.

The truth (apparently) is this:

So, Tillerson (who once called Trump a “moron” and never denied it) didn’t really know what he was going to be fired, although he may have suspected. And now, within the past hour, Goldstein (4th highest in State Department) has now been fired.

Apparently President Trump didn’t appreciate this sudden burst of telling the truth.


So let’s see… Tillerson is out at State. CIA Director Mike Pompeo will replace him. Gina Haspel, currently the deputy CIA director, will replace Pompeo and become the first woman to lead the CIA.

Haspel is somewhat controversial because she once ran a off-the-books torture prison in Thailand, overseeing the torture of two al Queda operatives. One of them, Abu Zubaydah, nearly died from constant waterboarding, but subsequently declassified CIA medical files assessed that Zubaydah was likely to have cooperated with his interrogators before his waterboarding, as he had with his FBI interrogators, who did not torture him. Those torture shops are now illegal.


As for Tillerson, his departure is not terribly surprising. He was not in the same lane as Trump — often contradicting him. Tillerson spoke out against Russian election-meddling; Tillerson believed in negotiation with North Korea and often tamped down Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric against Kim Jung-un. They disagreed on the the wall, and Trump’s latest tariff-raising. I thought Tillerson was correct on most issues, but I agree with his critics that he ran a horrible State Department. He basically gutted it, and tried to run it by fiat. We still have no ambassadors to many places, and lack diplomats.  Most State Department people agree, according to Politico:

State Department employees had one main reaction to Rex Tillerson’s ouster as secretary of state on Tuesday: “Good riddance.”

President Donald Trump’s decision to fire the top U.S. diplomat sent a wave of hope through a department battered by low morale under Tillerson, who dismissed the expertise of career diplomats and sought to downsize the department.

“There is strong sense of relief at State. The last year has been traumatic to put it mildly. It was as though ‘T-Rex’ stomped through Foggy Bottom devouring staff and structures,” said Brett Bruen, a former State Department official.

Several current State officials said they also hope to bid farewell to Tillerson’s top aides, including chief of staff Margaret Peterlin and policy chief Brian Hook, whom they criticize for forming a protective and secretive clique around the secretary during his nearly 14-month tenure.

“People see this as a chance for a clean sweep,” said one staffer, who like most others spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid losing his job. “This team has proven itself incapable of managing the State Department.”

Multiple Foreign and Civil Service officers struck an optimistic note about Tillerson’s chosen replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Many hope that Pompeo’s close relationship with Trump will mean that the State Department will gain more influence with a president who has often sidelined it.

I hope that is true, although Pompeo is a true hawk, and I am not sure he will beef up the State Department. In fact, he might adopt views closer to Trump, but still reject diplomacy as a tool. Pompeo, like Trump, hates the Iran nuclear deal. While Tillerson has advocated for keeping the Barack Obama-era deal in place, Pompeo is more willing to question its value.

On the other hand, how Pompeo will deal with the threat from Russia is another open question. The CIA chief has called out Russia over its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential race. But he’s also managed to stay in Trump’s good graces even as the president has downplayed intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win.  Time will tell. Maybe next year Pompeo will be gone as well.

There was another dismissal making much less news — that of Trump’s personal body man (think Charlie from “The West Wing”):

John McEntee, who has served as President Trump’s personal assistant since Mr. Trump won the presidency, was forced out of his position and escorted from the White House on Monday after his security clearance was revoked, officials with knowledge of the incident said.

But Mr. McEntee will remain in the president’s orbit despite his abrupt departure from the White House. Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign announced Tuesday that Mr. McEntee has been named Senior Adviser for Campaign Operations, putting him in a position to remain as a close aide during the next several years.

The campaign’s decision underscores Mr. Trump’s tolerance for — and often encouragement of — dueling centers of power around him. And it highlights the extent to which the re-election campaign has already become a landing pad for former Trump associates who have left the White House but remain loyal to the president.

Officials declined to say what issues prompted the security concerns about Mr. McEntee.

John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has said in recent weeks that too many staff members were operating on interim security clearances because they could not pass F.B.I. background checks. A White House spokesman declined to comment on Mr. McEntee’s firing.

But a senior administration official said that many of the president’s top aides were shocked and dismayed by the abrupt departure, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss personnel issues, said Mr. McEntee had been expected to travel with Mr. Trump — as he always does — when the president departed for a trip to California Tuesday morning.

The striking part is that he was escorted out by security. Other reports say the departure was so sudden that he left his suit jacket behind.

I guess this is it: