President Donald Trump’s decision to fire Rex Tillerson as secretary of state Tuesday morning was not surprising — the rift between the two had been apparent for months — but it seems that the timing of his firing caught Tillerson himself off guard.
Trump unceremoniously announced Tillerson’s ouster in a Tuesday morning tweet, and the statement that followed focused largely on praising his replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
It appears that Trump’s tweet may have been Tillerson’s first indication that he was fired, as a senior State Department official told NBC News.
If Tillerson was given a heads up about his ouster, he did not hear it from the President directly. The Washington Post reported that “Trump last Friday asked Tillerson to step aside, and the embattled diplomat cut short a trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington.” Post reporter Ashley Parker later tweeted that a White House official told Tillerson on Friday that his days were numbered.
CNN reported that White House chief of staff John Kelly told Tillerson that he would be replaced. Bloomberg News reported that Kelly gave Tillerson the warning on Friday but did not say when Trump would make the announcement. However, the Associated Press reported that Kelly’s warning to Tillerson was more vague. A State Department official told the AP that Kelly only told Tillerson to expect a tweet from Trump that would concern him, without specifying what the tweet would say or when exactly Trump would publish it. Kelly called Tillerson again on Saturday to tell him that Trump’s decision to fire him was “imminent,” a White House official told NBC News.
The State Department issued a statement Tuesday morning indicating that Tillerson was caught off guard by the announcement. Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein said that Tillerson did not speak with Trump and that he did not know the reasoning behind his firing. Goldstein was later fired over the statement that contradicted the official White House narrative.
“The Secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security. He will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and the foreign ministers he has worked with throughout the world,” Goldstein said in the statement. “The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes that public service is a noble calling.”
Speaking to reporters outside the White House Tuesday morning, Trump also suggested that Tillerson had little heads up about his ouster.
“I really didn’t discuss it very much with him honestly. I made that decision by myself,” Trump told reporters.
The announcement that Tillerson would be replaced came after Tillerson broke with the White House in blaming Russia for the poisoning of a former British spy, but it’s not clear whether Trump made the decision to fire Tillerson before then.