We’ve seen it coming for quite some time, and we’re not even surprised about the manner in which it happened. But now that it’s happened, it’s still jarring. Donald Trump woke up this morning and posted a tweet congratulating Mike Pompeo as his new Secretary of State. Then, almost in an aside, Trump revealed that Rex Tillerson is no longer Secretary of State. What the heck just happened, and why? We can piece together some of the answers for you.
We know that Rex Tillerson, as former CEO of ExxonMobil, is a longtime close business associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was recently revealed by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele that Putin rejected Donald Trump’s initial choice of anti-Russia politician Mitt Romney for Secretary of State, which then led to the choice of the pro-Russia Tillerson. Perhaps most importantly, Tillerson took a surprising stance against Russia yesterday when it came to the recent poisoning of a Russian spy in the UK, which had Putin’s fingerprints all over it. Less than twenty-four hours later, Trump fired Tillerson. So how does all of this fit together?
There are so many conflicting stories and timelines coming out of the White House right now, it’s difficult to figure out the precise story. Trump and his team want us to believe that he told Tillerson on Friday that he would be fired. But when State Department official Steve Goldstein publicly disputed this timeline today and asserted that Tillerson had been caught off guard by today’s tweet, Goldstein was also fired. This means it’s probably fair to assume that Trump and his handlers are lying, as per usual, and that Trump really did fire Tillerson because of his anti-Russia remarks, and that Goldstein was fired for telling the truth.
Just moments before Donald Trump’s tweet about Tillerson, there was major breaking news about yet another Roger Stone associate having apparently flipped on Stone and Trump (link). Some have suggested that Tillerson’s firing was an attempt at a distraction from this. But if Trump were looking to throw off the news cycle, he could have simply attacked Hillary Clinton or posted one of his usual racist tweets about black public figures. This would have been overkill. For all his bluster and his “You’re fired” catchphrase, Trump rarely actually fires people; when he grows tired of them, he instead tends to try to annoy or harangue them into resigning of their own accord. When he does occasionally fire people, it’s because they’re in position to expose his scandals (Comey, Yates, Bharara). He doesn’t tend to fire his own friendlies. So this is a big deal.
Details will continue to surface. But based on what’s known so far, here’s what probably happened: Donald Trump never did fire Rex Tillerson for calling him a “f—ing moron” last year. But just one day after Tillerson publicly criticized his own friend Vladimir Putin, Trump did fire him for it. If this timeline proves true, it’ll mean Donald Trump is such a Russian puppet, he takes it more personally when someone criticizes Putin than when someone criticizes him.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report