Tillerson's Ouster Comes After Pointing Finger at Russia in UK Attack

In this Dec. 20, 2017, photo, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington. Tillerson huddles Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, with nations that fought on America's side in the Korean War, looking to tighten the economic noose around North Korea over its nuclear weapons even as hopes rise for diplomacy. The 20-nation gathering in Vancouver, Canada, hosted by Tillerson and his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland, was called befo
In this Dec. 20, 2017, photo, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington. Tillerson huddles Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, with nations that fought on America's side in the Korean War, looking to tighten the economic noose around North Korea over its nuclear weapons even as hopes rise for diplomacy. The 20-nation gathering in Vancouver, Canada, hosted by Tillerson and his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland, was called before the recent start of talks between North and South Korea, the first in two years. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had been sidelined by the White House on a range of issues and had allegedly called Trump a "moron," and moved Tuesday to replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Tillerson's ouster came a day after he broke ranks with the White House again on alleged Russian involvement in a nerve agent assassination attempt in Britain.

"We disagreed on things," Trump said in confirming the long-standing rumors of his rocky relationship with the nation's top diplomat.

"Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time," he said of his desire to turn the State Department over to Pompeo.

On the White House lawn, before departing for a trip to California, Trump called Tillerson "a good man," but said "we were really not thinking the same."

He pointed to their differences on Iran. "Really, it was a different mindset," Trump said.

"I want to thank Rex Tillerson for his service," Trump said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. "A great deal has been accomplished over the last 14 months, and I wish him and his family well.

"I am proud to nominate the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, to be our new Secretary of State," he continued.

Trump also nominated Gina Haspel, the current deputy director of the CIA, to replace Pompeo and become "the CIA's first-ever female director, a historic milestone."

The firing of Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil chief, came after he joined British Prime Minister Theresa May in pointing the finger at Russia and President Vladimir Putin in the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.

The Washington Post, which broke the news of Tillerson's departure, reported that he had actually been asked by Trump on Friday to step down, and that he curtailed a planned trip to Africa on Monday in order to come back to Washington, D.C.

Earlier Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said it is too early to tell whether Russia was involved in the attempted murder. But Tillerson said: "We have full confidence in the U.K.'s [United Kingdom's] investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack that took place in Salisbury last week."

Tillerson said, "We are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior. From Ukraine to Syria, and now the U.K., Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens."

Tillerson's ouster and the lengthy nomination process for Pompeo will likely mean that the State Department will be without a leader as Trump prepares for a possible summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, tentatively scheduled for the end of May.

In his more than a year at the State Department, Tillerson had grown close to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and they both had pushed the diplomacy-first option in dealing with North Korea.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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