The president made the announcement Tuesday morning on Twitter. Tillerson learned he had been replaced at the same time as the rest the public, CBS News reported.
Hours later, Tillerson held a news conference, where he announced his “commission as secretary of state will terminate at midnight, March 31.” He said he will delegate his responsibilities to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan at the end of the workday Tuesday.
“All of us, we know, want to leave this place as a better place for the next generation,” Tillerson said. “I will now return to private life, as a private citizen, as a proud American — proud of the opportunity I have had to serve my country.”
The president told reporters that he made the decision to oust Tillerson “by myself.”
“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long. We got along, actually, quite well,” Trump told reporters at the White House shortly before leaving for a trip to California. “But we disagreed on things. When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess, he thinks it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same.”
Trump added that Tillerson will be “much happier now,” and he appreciates his service. Trump also praised the energy and intellect of Pompeo, saying they’ve had “a very good chemistry.”
The White House also sacked a top aide, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein.
He issued a statement in his name Tuesday morning saying that Tillerson “had every intention of remaining because of the tangible progress made on critical national security issues.”
“He established and enjoyed relationships with his counterparts. He will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and enjoyed working together with the Department of Defense in an uncommonly robust relationship,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein added that Tillerson “did not speak to the President this morning and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling and not to be regretted.” He also told reporters that Tillerson had learned of Trump’s decision with the president’s tweet.
Tillerson had just returned from a shortened trip to Africa hours before Trump’s announcement.
In his tweet, Trump offered no explanation for the change.
“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State,” he said. “He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service!”
The president also released a statement, saying he was “proud” to nominate Pompeo:
“I am proud to nominate the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, to be our new Secretary of State. 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.
“As Director of the CIA, Mike has earned the praise of members in both parties by strengthening our intelligence gathering, modernizing our defensive and offensive capabilities, and building close ties with our friends and allies in the international intelligence community. I have gotten to know Mike very well over the past 14 months, and I am confident he is the right person for the job at this critical juncture. He will continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
“His experience in the military, Congress, and as leader of the CIA have prepared him well for his new role and I urge his swift confirmation.
“Gina Haspel, the Deputy Director of the CIA, will be nominated to replace Director Pompeo and she will be the CIA’s first-ever female director, a historic milestone. Mike and Gina have worked together for more than a year, and have developed a great mutual respect.
“Finally, I want to thank Rex Tillerson for his service. A great deal has been accomplished over the last fourteen months, and I wish him and his family well.”
In a statement, Pompeo said he was “deeply grateful to President Trump for permitting me to serve as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and for this opportunity to serve as Secretary of State.”
“His leadership has made America safer and I look forward to representing him and the American people to the rest of the world to further America’s prosperity,” he said.
Pompeo would need to be confirmed by the Senate. But Republicans have just a slim 51-seat majority, and confirmation is not certain.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says he hopes Pompeo will “turn over a new leaf” as secretary of state and toughen policies toward Russia and Vladimir Putin.
Pompeo is to be replaced at CIA by Gina Haspel, Pompeo’s deputy at CIA. She would be the first woman in that role.
Later Tuesday, Trump paid close attention to an incredibly tight special congressional election in Pennsylvania. The president carried the state’s 18th district easily in 2016, and campaigned for Republican Rick Saccone last weekend.
By 11:30 pm, Saccone was locked in a tight battle with Democrat Conor Lamb. The race was seen as a referendum on how Trump was doing.
The president spent the night in California, where he was briefed on progress and inspected 30-foot high prototypes of his proposed border wall.
“Congress must fund the border wall and prohibit grants to sanctuary jurisdictions that threaten the security of our country and the people our country,” Trump said.
California is full of sanctuary cities, and protesters made clear the opposed the president’s immigration policies.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)