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Rex Tillerson learned he was fired after reading Trump's tweet

| Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 1:48 p.m.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson looks on as he holds a joint press conference with Nigeria's Foreign Minister in Abuja, on March 12, 2018.
AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson looks on as he holds a joint press conference with Nigeria's Foreign Minister in Abuja, on March 12, 2018.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson boards his plane to depart Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, on March 9, 2018.
AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson boards his plane to depart Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, on March 9, 2018.

In just the latest major staffing change to rock the White House, President Trump is replacing embattled Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo.

On Tuesday morning, a spokesman for the State Department issued an unusual statement, saying Tillerson "did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason" he was being replaced.

Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary for public diplomacy, told CNN Global Affairs correspondent Elise Labott that Tillerson learned he was being replaced when he read a tweet sent by Trump Tuesday morning.

After revealing Tillerson found out about his dismissal from Trump's tweet, the White House also fired Goldstein for contradicting the official account of the secretary of state's ouster.

Discord between Tillerson and Trump has been festering for months, since NBC News reported in October that Tillerson had called Trump a "moron" during a Pentagon meeting last summer.

"Trump was enraged after it leaked that he had called him a moron, and his frustration with him never subsided," CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins wrote on Twitter. "Their differences were irreconcilable."

Despite months of rumors, Tillerson's sudden departure was a surprise to reporters traveling with the secretary of state home from a recent trip to Africa.

"We got off the plane with Tillerson less than four hours ago," wrote Josh Lederman, who covers the State Department for the Associated Press. "There was zero indication on flight home that this was imminent."

On the flight back to Washington from Nigeria Monday night, Tillerson spoke to reporters about Russia's alleged involvement in the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain, calling it "a really egregious act" that appears to have "clearly" come from Russia.

"I've become extremely concerned about Russia," Tillerson told reporters. "We spent most of last year investing a lot into attempts to work together, to solve problems, to address differences. And quite frankly, after a year, we didn't get very far. Instead what we've seen is a pivot on their part to be more aggressive."

Tillerson's remarks about Russia echoed comments made by British Prime Minister Theresa May, who said it was " highly likely " Russia was behind the poisoning. The fact that Tillerson took a harsher stance against Russia than the White House, just hours before his dismissal, wasn't lost on pundits Tuesday morning.

"Tillerson getting fired the day after he publicly chastised Putin is pretty wild," wrote former Obama official and Pod Save America co-host Dan Pfeiffer.

Just about 100 days ago, Trump himself denied that Tillerson was on his way out, calling reports of the secretary of state's departure "fake news."

 

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