Trump's turbulent Tuesday
What a day at the White House ...
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been removed from his post and will be replaced by CIA boss Mike Pompeo, who in turn will be succeeded by Gina Haspel (the first woman to hold the position of CIA director, as the president boasted in an early morning tweet announcing the shakeup). Both jobs require Senate votes, but Pompeo and Haspel are both likely to be confirmed.
Before getting canned on this tempestuous Tuesday, Tillerson somehow survived in his job for five months after it was reported that he called the president a "moron" over Trump's stated preference to Pentagon officials that he wanted to ignore long-held international agreements and rebuild the U.S.' nuclear stockpile to its 1960s peak. (Tillerson never confirmed nor denied the "moron" remark, which all but confirmed it.) The State Department said Tillerson never even spoke to the president prior to learning of his dismissal via tweet this morning. For his part, President Trump told reporters this morning, "I think Rex will be much happier now." He's probably not wrong. Exiting this exceedingly chaotic administration would seemingly make anyone happier.
But however it went down, this much is clear: Tillerson's sacking concludes one of the shortest tenures as the head of the State Department in history, and a record of service with few accomplishments.
The former CEO of ExxonMobil leaves a legacy at Foggy Bottom of failing to prevent the president from marginalizing the department, mass resignations by career diplomats, and historically low morale following a reorganization effort designed to streamline the department's bureaucracy. As one State Department official put it to Foreign Policy last July, "It's pretty demoralizing if you are committed to making progress. I now spend most of my days thinking about the morass. There is no vision."
Of course, not all the blame for Tillerson's undistinguished 14 months at the State Department can be solely placed at his feet. President Trump has never been particularly keen on prioritizing diplomacy, and as is indicative of the chaotic and inept management style of the Trump administration, scores of key State Department roles remain unfilled — including ambassadorships to critical allies such as Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. Tillerson also publicly disagreed with the president on how to deal with a number of hot spots — including North Korea and Iran — and had to contend with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner's appointment as the administration's point man on Middle East diplomacy.
Now that Tillerson is out, a number of pressing questions arise. Will Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin follow Tillerson out the door in accordance with their reported professional "suicide pact"? The trio had agreed that if one was fired, the others would leave the White House with even fewer competent adults, according to a U.S. official who spoke to BuzzFeed News last year.
Remember, Tillerson's departure comes in the midst of delicate direct negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as well as a renewed focus on Russia, which Tillerson said just yesterday was "likely responsible for the nerve agent attack" against a former spy in the U.K. last week, directly contradicting the party line from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. For all his faults — and there were many — Tillerson does indeed seem to have been one of the few adults in the Trump administration willing to speak his mind and stand up to the president.
And what of Pompeo? He represents an appointment much closer to Trump's worldview and management style.
Pompeo — a former three-term Republican congressman from Kansas — shares Trump's positions on rolling back the Iranian nuclear deal, repopulating the extralegal prison in Guantanamo Bay, warrantless NSA spying on U.S. citizens, and the torture of terror suspects. Pompeo also has close ties to Frank Gaffney, a stridently anti-Islam activist who believes that strict, practicing Muslims are not entitled to First Amendment protections but are, in fact, engaged in "an impermissible act of sedition, which has to be prosecuted." In the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Pompeo said that the "silence" of Muslim leaders regarding terrorism "casts doubt upon the commitment to peace among adherents of the Muslim faith."
Replacing Pompeo is Gina Haspel, who was praised by colleagues as a "consummate professional" when she was first named CIA deputy director in 2017. Haspel has spent much of her career in the U.S. intelligence service, and notably oversaw one of the agency's "black sites" in Thailand, where al Qaeda suspects were tortured — including a man later found to have no ties to the terror network. Years later, Haspel's former chief of staff Jose Rodriguez wrote a memoir detailing Haspel's direct orders to torture suspects, as well as to destroy scores of tapes of video evidence.
Less vital to the national interest, but certainly notable, is the dismissal of John McEntee — President Trump's longtime personal assistant and "body man" — who was escorted from the White House without even being permitted to collect his jacket or personal belongings. McEntee, who will reportedly join the Trump re-election campaign, is being investigated the Department of Homeland Security "for serious financial crimes," a source tells CNN.
Oh yeah, then this happened:
JUST IN: Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein is being fired for contradicting the account of Rex Tillerson’s dismissal, White House official tells @PeterAlexander
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) March 13, 2018
Even by Trump administration standards, this is a dramatic shakeup of both high and low-profile personnel. And the day is barely half over.