State Department efforts to undermine White House agenda sparked firing
By Adam Kredo
Rex Tillerson, who has been suddenly booted out of his job without warning, is the man who once described Donald Trump as “f***ing moron”. Trump has now had his revenge.
March 13, 2018 1:15 pm. The abrupt firing Tuesday of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson follows months of infighting between the State Department and White House over efforts by Tillerson to save the Iran nuclear deal and ignore President Donald Trump’s demands that the agreement be fixed or completely scrapped by the United States, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
In the weeks leading up to Tillerson’s departure, he had been spearheading efforts to convince European allies to agree to a range of fixes to the nuclear deal that would address Iran’s ongoing ballistic missile program and continued nuclear research.
While Trump had prescribed a range of fixes that he viewed as tightening the deal’s flaws, Tillerson recently caved to European pressure to walk back these demands and appease Tehran while preserving the deal, according to these sources. The Free Beacon first disclosed this tension last week in a wide-ranging report.
White House allies warned Tillerson’s senior staff for weeks that efforts to save the nuclear deal and balk on Trump’s key demands regarding the deal could cost Tillerson his job, a warning that became reality Tuesday when Trump fired Tillerson by tweet.
Tillerson will be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a former member of Congress who established a record as being tough on Iran and echoing many of the policies called for by Trump. Insiders expect Pompeo to take a much harder line on the nuclear deal and pursue many of the fixes advocated by Trump, such as outlawing Iran’s ballistic missile program and instating fierce repercussions for any future breach.
While Tillerson’s exit had been rumored for months, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation said the former secretary’s repeated attempts to balk the White House and pursue his own diplomatic strategy, particularly regarding Iran, triggered his sudden exit.
Sources with knowledge of the matter said the White House informed Tillerson on Friday that Trump was seeking to make a change.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and vocal opponent of the nuclear deal, said he expects Pompeo to more faithfully execute Trump’s policies regarding Iran.
“President Trump has been clear that the Iran deal is terrible policy and has sought ways to hold Iran accountable,” DeSantis told the Free Beacon. “With Mike Pompeo, Trump will have a Secretary of State who sees the threat posed by the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and by Tehran in a similar light as he does.”
One veteran Iran policy expert who is close to the White House and worked repeatedly with the State Department told the Free Beacon that Tillerson worked to save the Iran deal as Trump was publicly advocating to scrap the agreement.
This tension between the White House and Foggy Bottom came to a head in recent days, prompting Trump to fire Tillerson and bring in Pompeo, an official who Trump believes will pressure European allies to more seriously fix a range of flaws in the nuclear deal.
“Tillerson staked his position on saving the Iran deal by threading the needle. He promised the president he could strengthen it enough to be good, but not so much the Europeans would backlash or the Iranians would bolt,” said the source, who would only speak about the sensitive matter on background. “That was always going to be tricky, then it became impossible, then it became embarrassing. The Europeans weren’t giving us enough on missiles and were refusing to budge on sunsets. And so here we are.”
Opponents of the Iran deal on Capitol Hill welcomed the news of Tillerson’s exit, telling the Free Beacon that as the deadline approaches for the United States and European allies to fix the Iran deal, Pompeo can help push Trump’s hardline stance.
“As the deadline approaches to fix the Iran Deal, Tillerson’s departure is welcome news. We need our top diplomat to share the president’s view on the disastrous nature of the JCPOA, and CIA Director Pompeo is the right man for the job,” said one senior congressional official who works on the Iran issue. “Hopefully now our European partners understand the president’s resolve and will work with us to permanently prevent Iran from going nuclear.”
Shortly after Trump fired Tillerson, the former secretary’s spokesman issued a statement claiming Tillerson was not sure of the reason for his dismissal.
“The secretary did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason,” Steve Goldstein, undersecretary for public diplomacy, told reporters. Goldstein was fired later in the day due to his statement.
Sebastian Gorka, a former strategist and Deputy Assistant to President Trump, told the Free Beaconthe White House had been laying the groundwork for Tillerson’s departure since at least December of last year.
“This has been in the planning phase since at least December of last year and should come as a surprise to nobody,” Gorka said. “The great things that were expected of Rex, especially in changing the America last culture at Foggy Bottom, did not happen, so this is a natural move.”
Gorka praised Pompeo’s work as CIA director and said “similar things are expected of him at the State Department.”
Additionally, Gorka said, Pompeo “is loyal to the make American great again agenda.”
Tillerson had been a source of tension for some time, according to insiders who explained the situation to the Free Beacon. The former Exxon executive gained a reputation for isolating top U.S. diplomats and even failing to return phone calls from senior officials such as David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel.
“There were serious problems, not only with Rex Tillerson isolating the Trump political appointees at State from his front office, but this was a secretary of state who wouldn’t even return the calls of senior diplomats like our ambassador in Israel, and as such, his position was untenable.”
Trump publicly acknowledged the discord in comments about the firing, saying that he and Tillerson did not often see eye-to-eye on key foreign policy matters.
Sources with knowledge of the president’s thinking said that Tillerson’s exit marks an effort by Trump to rid his administration of so-called “establishment figures” who openly worked at a crossroads with the president.
Tillerson’s view that abandoning the nuclear deal would cause international tumult was cited by these sources as a key source of tension.
One senior former U.S. official with direct knowledge of the situation told the Free Beacon that Tillerson failed to properly read Trump’s policy directives.
“It’s very indicative of Tillerson to hear that he was surprised by the news because he has misread the president, failed to see cues all along, on policy and personal issues and has literally been in the dark from day one,” said the official, who would only speak on background.
As Tillerson pursued his own agenda, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley emerged as one of Trump’s most vocal boosters on Iran policy and efforts to scrap the deal.
“She stepped in that vacuum,” said the former senior official. “She, to her credit, read the vacuum that the State Department had made with having Rex there.”
At the end of the day, Tillerson failed to galvanize even his own staff behind his diplomatic efforts.
“I’ve watched so many secretaries of state come in, and even if I didn’t agree with them, they had a base of support somewhere,” noted the former official, who spent time working in the State Department. “I struggle to know what was Rex Tillerson’s base of support. The elites in Washington didn’t like him, the policy wonks didn’t like him … he didn’t have an audience with anyone, so it was inevitable he was going to be done.”
Other White House insiders echoed this sentiment, telling the Free Beacon that Tillerson emerged as a roadblock to Trump’s foreign policy strategy.
“Tillerson was an establishment figure, like Gary Cohn, and the president seems after a year to be tiring of them,” said one source with knowledge of the matter. “He wants people closer to his own views. I think Tillerson’s opposition on Jerusalem was a factor: it’s not just that he opposed Trump but that he predicted violent reactions that didn’t happen.”
“I’ve got to figure that made the president wonder why he needed more such advice,” the source said. “Same for the JCPOA and Tillerson’s view that getting out of it would be a calamity.”
Update 2:18 p.m.: This post has been updated with further information.
Trump’s firing of Tillerson
signals further shift toward global war
By Bill Van Auken
14 March 2018
President Donald Trump’s sudden firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday and the announcement of CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement is bound up with the accelerating shift by the US administration toward a policy of global war as the solution to the deep-seated crisis of American capitalism.
Fired by a morning tweet from Trump, Tillerson was reported by his aides to have had no advance warning that he was to be removed from his post. The tweet came just hours after Tillerson had returned from a week-long trip to Africa, basically an apology tour over Trump’s reference to the continent as “shithole countries.”
Trump also announced that Pompeo will be replaced by Gina Haspel, an individual who is directly implicated in crimes of torture and forced disappearances.
While Trump’s method of removing Tillerson was abrupt, rumors that the secretary of state would lose his cabinet seat had circulated for months in Washington amid the repeated interventions by the US president to undercut his supposed spokesman to the world.
In an extraordinary rebuke to the US secretary of state last October, Trump tweeted from his New Jersey golf club that Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” the nickname he had adopted for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, adding, “we’ll do what has to be done!”, suggesting military action. The tweet came just as Tillerson was holding talks with Chinese officials on the crisis on the Korean peninsula.
During the same week, it emerged that Tillerson had referred to Trump as a “moron” at a Pentagon meeting over the president’s statement to advisors that he wanted a tenfold increase in US nuclear weapons.
Whatever the frictions between the US president and Tillerson, the multi-millionaire former CEO of ExxonMobil, Trump on Tuesday pointed to a particular difference over foreign policy.
“I actually got along well with Rex but really it was a different mind-set, a different thinking,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a trip to California. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thought it was okay. . . So we were not really thinking the same. With Mike, Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well.”
With a personal fortune of over $300 million and a career that brought him to the top of one of the largest oil conglomerates in the world, Tillerson is a dedicated defender of US capitalist interests. He had significant tactical differences with Trump and others in the administration, however, including over whether some of these interests could be achieved by means of diplomatic negotiations rather than military aggression.
Tillerson was reportedly among those in the White House who last month dissuaded Trump from upending the 2015 nuclear agreement negotiated between Iran and the P5+1—the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany—by refusing to sign the four-month waiver of US sanctions imposed over the nuclear program. Trump has reportedly complained that he regretted the decision and has vowed to reimpose the sanctions in May, the next waiver deadline, unless there is a deal to renegotiate the agreement, including terms that Tehran cannot and will not accept.
In an apparent response to the cabinet reshuffle, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Tuesday: “Mr Trump has made habit of being unpredictable and thus unreliable for anybody to engage with. Nobody will be interested in reaching any agreement with the White House if US signature only good for 4-8 yrs.”
Tillerson had also repeatedly spoken in favor of negotiations with North Korea, even as Trump threatened “fire and fury” and to “totally destroy” the country of 25 million people.
In the end, however, Tillerson was caught off guard by Trump, who suddenly declared last week his willingness to participate in direct talks with Korea’s Kim Jong-un on the de-nuclearization of North Korea to be held by May. Trump made his announcement just a day after Tillerson had told reporters in Ethiopia that it was unclear “whether the conditions are right to even begin thinking about negotiations.”
Tillerson’s proposed replacement as secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has repeatedly made clear his determination to scrap the Iran nuclear treaty and pursue a strategy of regime change in Tehran. After Trump’s election, he tweeted: “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”
As CIA director, Pompeo, who has repeatedly engaged in anti-Muslim rhetoric, referred to Iran as a “despotic theocracy” and a “pernicious empire that is expanding its power and influence across the Middle East.”
A former US Army tank officer and right-wing Tea Party congressman from Kansas, whose political career was bankrolled by the Koch brothers, Pompeo boasted last October that under his leadership, the CIA would become a “much more vicious agency.” He directed the deployment of CIA assassination squads in Afghanistan to eliminate opponents of the US-backed regime in Kabul.
Pompeo has also made clear his support for regime change in North Korea, declaring last July that he was “hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system … The North Korean people, I’m sure, are lovely people and would love to see him go.”
Speaking on a news talk show Sunday, Pompeo stressed that in any negotiations between Trump and Kim, “there will be no concessions made.”
Sources in Washington have indicated that Trump wanted to install Pompeo as secretary of state before any negotiations began.
The appointment of Pompeo strongly suggests that the acceptance of talks with Kim is a ruse on the part of the Trump administration, aimed at paving the way to US military action.
Asked on Sunday in an appearance on ABC where there was a possibility that the talks would not take place, White House spokesman Raj Shah responded, “there’s the possibility. If it does, it’s the North Koreans’ fault, they have not lived up to the promises that they made.”
The replacement of Tillerson by Pompeo provoked worried responses from Washington’s erstwhile European allies.
“The dismissal of Rex #Tillerson does not make anything better,” German Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth said in a tweet Tuesday.
Thomas Oppermann, the deputy speaker of the German parliament, meanwhile, warned that the removal of Tillerson, whom he described as “a reliable, intelligent interlocutor,” would result in a “further setback for German-American relations.” The sudden changes at the top of the US administration, he added, was a manifestation of Trump’s “capricious and erratic” methods.
Trump’s ostensible political opponents within the Democratic Party responded to the cabinet reshuffle entirely from the standpoint of the anti-Russia campaign that they have made the focus of their opposition to the administration.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said that Tillerson “was not close to tough enough on Russia,” and that he hoped that Pompeo “will be a lot tougher and we hope he can persuade the president to be tougher.”
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, attributed Tillerson’s firing to his having implicated Russia in connection with the poisoning of an ex-spy living in Britain. “President Trump’s actions show that every official in his Administration is at the mercy of his personal whims and his worship of Putin,” she tweeted.
When Tillerson was nominated as secretary of state, Democrats opposed him not out of concern that a top oil CEO would be taking over the senior foreign policy position in the US government, but rather over his deals he struck with Russia.
Now, far from opposing the further turn toward war by the Trump administration, they are only demanding that it focus more directly on nuclear-armed Russia.
In a statement on Tuesday, Schumer also made it clear that he was not calling on Democrats to oppose Trump’s nominee to replace Pompeo as director of the CIA, Haspel, a 30-year CIA veteran who was directly involved in the torture of detainees under the Bush administration, as well as in the destruction of video evidence documenting those war crimes.
TORTURE EXPERT GINA HASPEL,
TRUMP’S INSPIRED CHOICE FOR CIA DIRECTOR
“I like torturing people — that’s why I got the job!”
“Haspel had a front-row seat to the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques against terror suspects. Between 2003 and 2005, she oversaw a secret CIA prison in Thailand where terror suspects were waterboarded.”