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Freddy Gray US Politics

Rex Tillerson’s sacking isn’t about Russia

The Secretary of State's departure has been a long time coming

13 March 2018

1:39 PM

13 March 2018

1:39 PM

Sometimes it’s almost as if Donald Trump wants the world to think he’s a Russian patsy. Yesterday, Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State, warned Putin that Russia’s alleged assassination attempt on British soil would trigger ‘a response’. Today he’s been sacked.

But the firing almost certainly isn’t about Russia. It seems Trump asked Tillerson to go on Friday, a day after Trump agreed to meet Kim Jong-un. So the more likely cause of Tillerson’s departure is the most obvious: the sudden rapprochement with North Korea. Tillerson was reportedly blindsided by the announcement that Trump would meet Kim Jong-un. Apparently, he only learnt about it after Trump made his offer to Pyongyang. So perhaps the lesson is: Trump really needs a Secretary of State who doesn’t mind being out the loop.

Other possible causes of the sacking are manifold. Tillerson’s days have looked numbered ever since October, when it emerged he had reportedly called Trump a “fucking moron”. His denials were never convincing. We know Trump prizes loyalty very highly and, from the start of the presidency, it seems the two men never got along. One senior White House aide, lunching at the Spectator early on in the Trump presidency, blamed the State Department’s underpowered performance squarely on Tillerson, saying the new Secretary of State simply hadn’t filled any appointments, leaving the 7th floor of the building all but empty. This was a common complaint.

Tillerson found himself at odds with the boss on a number of issues. When Trump Tweeted that Qatar was supporting terrorism, his Secretary of State tried to patch things up. Tillerson and Jim Mattis reportedly waged a campaign to stop Trump announces tariffs on steel and aluminium. They lost.

Tillerson – though he had come from business not public life – turned out to be a comfortable member of the foreign policy establishment Trump had run against in the campaign.

Trump’s choice to replace Tillerson is not surprising. Mike Pompeo, as director of the CIA, has proved himself incredibly loyal to the president at a time when Trump was at war with the intelligence community. Pompeo has improved his standing with the White House, time and again, by supporting Trump’s position in the Russia investigation. Now he’s been rewarded.

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