Donald Trump on Tuesday abruptly fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replaced him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, in another massive shakeup for the White House.
The president told The Washington Post that he asked Tillerson to step aside last Friday and the outgoing secretary of State cut short a diplomatic trip to Africa to return to Washington on Monday, though the State Department claimed Tillerson only found out about his firing when Trump tweeted about it Tuesday morning.
Speaking after the announcement, Trump said: “I think Mike Pompeo will be a truly great secretary of State—I have total confidence in him. As far as Rex Tillerson is concerned I very much appreciate his commitment and his service, and I wish him well, he’s a good man.”
White House officials said Trump made the change in preparation for his summit with Kim Jong Un and upcoming trade negotiations. Trump and Tillerson have had a fraught relationship, with one infamous incident in October when he allegedly called the president a “moron.”
The State Department said Tillerson “did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason” for his dismissal, and later said he was unaware of the decision until Tuesday. If the State Department’s timeline is correct, Tillerson would have been fired after he made critical comments about Russia’s purported involvement in the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain.
“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time,” the president claimed. “We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things. With Mike Pompeo we have a very similar thought process, I think it’s going to go very well.
He added: “Rex is a very good man, I like Rex a lot, I really appreciate his commitment and his service, and I'll be speaking to Rex over a long period of time.”
“Mike graduated first in his class at West Point, served with distinction in the U.S. Army, and graduated with honors from Harvard Law School. He went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives with a proven record of working across the aisle.”
Trump also confirmed that Gina Haspel, the deputy director at the CIA, will succeed Pompeo as CIA director as he takes up his new role, and she will be the first woman to hold that position. Trump added: “Finally, I want to thank Rex Tillerson for his service. A great deal has been accomplished over the last 14 months, and I wish him and his family well.”
Another one of the morning’s exits seemed to stand out due to his low-profile role in the White House, but dramatic exit.
President Trump’s personal assistant John McEntee was fired Monday afternoon due to an unnamed security reason. McEntee was reportedly “removed from the White House grounds” and not permitted to even gather his belongings before his exit. A White House official told the Wall Street Journal that McEntee had to leave without his jacket.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to comment on McEntee’s exit, saying the White House does not “comment on personnel issues.” McEntee told his colleagues his departure related to “an issue in his background,” according to the Journal. CNN reported Tuesday that McEntee was fired “because he is currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes,” per sources.
While McEntee might be out of the White House, he’s still in Trump’s circle. A Tuesday release from the Trump 2020 campaign announced McEntee will be joining as a senior adviser for campaign operations. The release also announced Katrina Pierson would be a senior adviser. The announcement noted that both McEntee and Pierson will be “based in Washington, D.C. and will begin their new roles in the coming days.”
“As we build out our operations for the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 reelection campaign, we are pleased to welcome back two outstanding members of our 2016 team,” said campaign manager Brad Parscale in the release. “We need the help of proven leaders like Katrina and John to promote the president’s growing portfolio of achievements across the country.”
McEntee is a long-serving Trump aide, considered to be Trump’s “body man” and one of the remaining “OGs” within the White House ranks, as NBC News’ Hallie Jackson described him. He stood alongside the president ever since Trump’s only political aides were Jared Kushner, Dan Scavino, Hope Hicks, and Stephen Miller.
According to a December Politico profile, McEntee “is one of the only White House employees whose contact with the president spans his political and personal lives,” aside from Scavino and Hicks, and was the “first 10 or 15 staffers in the New York office.” One official described him as a “lock box,” and McEntee’s father vouched for his loyalty. “He literally loves the president,” his father, John, told Politico. “He loves the president and that family. Jared and Ivanka, too.”
After Trump’s longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller left, former press secretary Sean Spicer told Politico that McEntee was “playing a larger role. He is someone who has earned the trust of the president and is a top-notch professional.”
The Journal reported that some on McEntee’s day-to-day responsibilities in the White House included making sure Trump had “markers to sign autographs, delivered messages to him in the White House residence, and, over the weekend, ensured that the clocks in the White House residence were adjusted for daylight saving time.”
While out at the White House, McEntee is still around, unlike the likes of Hope Hicks, Rob Porter, and others within the inner ring. Once in the president’s circle, it’s clear that many stay—or leave Washington altogether.