On Tuesday March 13, it was announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was stepping down and would be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. While political insiders maintain that the exit signs for the former Exxon CEO have been present for some time, the news of Tillerson’s departure became more jolting after it was revealed that it was not voluntary.
On the evening of Friday March 16 Attorney General Jeff Sessions “fired” former Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe after both The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) concluded that Mr. McCabe had exhibited misconduct during his 2016 investigation of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of unsecured email server. The OIG and the OPR recommended McCabe’s termination after the investigation concluded that he had made “unauthorized disclosures to the news media“ and “lacked candor-including under oath-on multiple occasions.”
The words “You’re fired” have been used quite frequently and perhaps cavalierly to describe the various management shake-ups within the Trump Administration over the past fourteen months. After all it is so easy to affix the popular catch phrase from President Trump’s reality show The Apprentice to every non-voluntary leadership or staff departure to feed a growing mainstream narrative that the President is strategically eliminating anyone who disagrees with him. The decision to relieve an individual of his employment is not a casual decision. The circumstances behind McCabe and Tillerson’s terminations could not be more different, however, they are alike in that they came about in response to observation, data collection and in the case of McCabe, evidence.
McCabe’s Friday night firing is particularly significant because it took place two days before his 50th birthday, the day he intended to retire with a full pension following twenty-one years of service. McCabe had been on leave since January using his bank of vacation time while the investigation was being conducted. The Democrats and the mainstream media are alleging that, given that McCabe was planning on retiring within 48 hours, firing him and potentially stripping him of all or part of his pension is mean spirited and unnecessary.
Supporters of the decision disagree. After all, why should someone who violated the sanctity of his office be entitled to a pension funded by tax payers? Given the way that the mainstream media and the Democrats are reacting to McCabe’s termination, you would never know that he could actually serve prison time for his actions. First MSNBC journalist Andrea Mitchell sent out a tweet stating that if a member of congress hired McCabe for a few days he could be eligible for pension money.
Several representatives of congress responded to the tweet with job offers for McCabe including Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who asked McCabe on Twitter to “call him”. “I could use a good two-day report on the biggest crime families in Washington, D.C.,” he wrote.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-MD made similar employment offers. Gutierrez commented that, “We have to stand up to bullies,” How did this narrative get so twisted? President Trump and Attorney General Sessions did not fire McCabe. The OPR fired him because of his misconduct. If McCabe had been employed in the private sector, he would have been escorted out of his office. When did upholding the law become equated with bullying?
The Rex Tillerson ousting is a completely different scenario. When President Trump first announced Tillerson as his pick for the top diplomatic job, he faced a lot of opposition from congress and his confirmation hearings were particularly rigorous. After all he was the first Secretary of State who had never held a government office or served in the military.
Tillerson was also criticized for his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin who had awarded him a friendship award during his tenure at the helm of Exxon. However, Tillerson was ultimately confirmed with the hope that he would be the “inspired choice” which President Trump championed him as. The feedback on Tillerson in his early days as Secretary of State was positive. He was described as a good listener and he also appeared to be receiving favorable feedback from his official visits.
However, reports that he was isolating himself started surfacing as did rumors that he was losing the confidence of President Trump. It certainly did not help last October when news outlets reported that Tillerson had referred to President Trump as “a moron”. And while Tillerson refused to dignify the allegation with a response, the damage was already done. The concept of a distance between Tillerson and President Trump was already out in the ether.
There was also the issue of the backlog of open positions at The State Department which was leading to internal tensions within the agency. Tillerson received criticism for not advancing nominees for important ambassador posts such as Richard Grenell for Germany. Many important embassies including South Korea, Turkey and South Africa are still without a nominee.
However, the most critical element in Tillerson’s fall from grace was that he was increasingly moving further away from the President in terms of his policy positions. For instance, Tillerson did not agree with President Trump’s plans to undue the Iran Nuclear Deal which was implemented under President Barack Obama. And of course, there was the Qatar situation in the spring of 2017, where Tillerson found himself at odds with the president. While President Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner advocated for going along with supporting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in applying pressure on Qatar, Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis advised against this strategy.
Tillerson’s growing philosophical divide with the President, his lack of support within The State Department and his simple failure to execute were the elements of his demise. President Trump’s tweet about the Tillerson/Pompeo change in command said it all: “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”
“Thanking someone for their service” is code for “he was not a fit” for the job. And of course President Trump emphasized this point by opening his tweet with Pompeo’s appointment instead of Tillerson’s departure.” Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time … we got along quite well, but we disagreed on things,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We were not really thinking the same … with Mike, we have a very similar thought process.” Pompeo is in and Tillerson is out because Trump believes he and Pompeo think alike. And of course, this alignment is critical as the US is now potentially going into conversations with North Korea.
McCabe’s and Tillerson’s terminations are completely different stories but their impact is the same. They both feed the liberal narrative that the White House is in chaos because it is led by a tyrannical bully who wants to be surrounded by yes men. Again when did upholding the law or assembling the right team become crimes?