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Breaking: REXIT; Update: No explanation and no call from Trump? Trump: Tillerson will be “much happier now”; More Trump: I need Pompeo’s “tremendous energy”; CNN, NBC: Tillerson learned of firing by Trump’s tweet



The ax finally fell on Rex Tillerson. The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump fired his Secretary of State and has already named his replacement:

President Trump has ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replaced him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, orchestrating a major change to his national security team amid delicate negotiations with North Korea, White House officials said Tuesday.

Trump last Friday asked Tillerson to step aside, and the embattled top diplomat cut short his trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington.

Pompeo will replace him at the State Department, and Gina Hapsel — the deputy director at the CIA — will succeed him at the CIA, becoming the first woman to run the spy agency, if confirmed.

Give Tillerson credit for lasting a lot longer than many had predicted. Rumors had swirled for months that Trump had grown unhappy with his first Secretary of State, but somehow the former ExxonMobil chair managed to outlast several White House figures. Tillerson’s run came to a screeching halt on Friday, although the news didn’t leak out until a few minutes ago.

Trump certainly sounded cheery just minutes after the news went out:

It’s a notable but perhaps understandable time for a shake-up on the nat-sec team. Put in Godfather terms, perhaps Trump didn’t think of the corporate exec as a wartime consigliere, a point which the upcoming negotiations with North Korea would make more acute. Pompeo has plenty of experience in the intelligence arena, and that will undoubtedly be crucial to any success in those talks.

It might be a signal that Trump wants to get tougher with Russia too. That would make this last conversation with the press as Secretary of State even more ironic. On his way back to the US, Tillerson went much farther than the White House did on the nerve-agent attack on Sergei Skripal. He corroborated Theresa May’s conclusion that the poison almost certainly came from Russian labs and that Russia should expect a response from the UK for the attack:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cast the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain as part of a “certain unleashing of activity” by Russia that the United States is struggling to understand. He warned that the poisoning would “certainly trigger a response.”

Tillerson, echoing the British government’s finger-pointing toward Moscow, said he didn’t yet know whether Russia’s government knew of the attack with a military-grade nerve agent, but that one way or another, “it came from Russia.” He said it was “almost beyond comprehension” why a state actor would deploy such a dangerous substance in a public place in a foreign country where others could be exposed.

“I cannot understand why anyone would take such an action. But this is a substance that is known to us and does not exist widely,” Tillerson told reporters as he flew from Nigeria to Washington. “It is only in the hands of a very, very limited number of parties.”

Tillerson, in what seems clearly a valediction in retrospect, also told reporters that all attempts to improve relations with Russia had come to naught. The US and other Western nations should realize that Putin seems determined to remain aggressive and antagonistic:

Tillerson, who spoke Monday by phone with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, said he’s grown “extremely concerned” about Russia, noting that he spent most of the first year of the Trump administration trying to solve problems and narrow differences with the Kremlin. He said after a year of trying, “we didn’t get very far.”

“Instead what we’ve seen is a pivot on their part to be more aggressive,” Tillerson said. “And this is very, very concerning to me and others that there seems to be a certain unleashing of activity that we don’t fully understand what the objective behind that is.”

The acute question now will be whether the Senate will hold up Pompeo’s confirmation. He’s already been confirmed once and has performed well at the CIA, so it should flow relatively smoothly, but it’s also an election year. Senate Democrats will demand lots and lots of answers on Russian collusion in the 2016 election and whether intelligence agencies have been aggressive in confronting Russian meddling in this cycle too. It’ll be brief but memorable, and that may well have been why Trump waited this long to drop the ax on Tillerson.

Longer term, one has to wonder whether Pompeo will take State in a significantly different direction. Tillerson had dragged his heels on appointments to key positions; there are still dozens of ambassadorial positions open, including to key nations like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and South Korea, not to mention other political appointments within State. Pompeo will have a better grip on the need to fill the political appointments while cutting down on the career positions and shrinking the bureaucracy where it can be shrunk. Expect to see a different State Department in the next few months.

Update: Philip Klein notes another difference made in this change:

REXIT could be IRAXIT, although our Western allies will have something to say about that too.

Update: CBS reports that Trump didn’t tell Tillerson until this morning:

CBS News’ Kylie Atwood reports that Tillerson was leaving his Africa trip early to return back to Washington to talk with Mr. Trump and connect on developments in North Korea, which he was largely left out of as the White House announced it would be taking up talks with the regime sometime in May.

CBS News’ Margaret Brennan adds that the Secretary had not yet spoken with the president and found out about news of his ouster when the public did. Brennan adds that Tillerson had every intention of staying due to the critical progress in national security.

That seems a little difficult to credit, although it’s possible. Tillerson only just happened to be coming back when Trump was ready to announce his successor? Maaaaaybeeee.

Update: AP reports that not only was it a surprise, Trump didn’t offer any explanation for the move:

NBC reports that Tillerson didn’t even get a call from Trump:

Yikes. Looks like this was a surprise, although it can’t have been a shock after working for Trump more than a year. CNN reports that the move was in the works for months and that Trump never forgave Tillerson for the “moron” remark:

President Trump has wanted Mike Pompeo as his secretary of state for months now — and the White House began planning for him to take this job last fall.

Trump’s anger at Tillerson after it leaked that he called him “a moron” never subsided, and many in the White House saw their differences as irreconcilable. …

Sources close to the President say it was clear Tillerson didn’t support Trump. They say Tillerson wanted to handle foreign policy his own way, without the President. Trump didn’t feel that Tillerson backed him, source says.

The biggest difference, CNN reported in a separate tweet, was on Iran.

Update: To extend the Godfather references, it looks like this was personal and not business, Sonny:

Update: Trump claims that he and Tillerson have discussed the change “for some time,” but says their differences on the Iran deal was the catalyst. He and Pompeo share the same views on it, plus Trump cites Pompeo’s “tremendous energy” as something he needs in a Secretary of State:

Trump clearly had had enough of Tillerson, for one reason or another.

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Trump defends congratulating Putin: What’s wrong with getting along with Russia?




He had five possible ways to spin the “congratulations” news. He chose the worst of the five.

He could have ducked the subject of what he said to Putin entirely by insisting that the real story here is the leak. And he’d be sort of right about that.

He could have cried “FAKE NEWS!” and claimed that the papers have it all wrong. He didn’t congratulate Putin. He did reprimand him over the Skripal poisoning. The Fake News Media is so obsessed with its narrative that Trump is in the tank for Russia that it refuses to report when Trump confronts him! Even if all of that was a lie, vanishingly few people would be in a position to know. But no, here he is admitting that he really did congratulate Putin. So … why are they the “Fake News Media”? They got it right.

He could have said that he was briefed by phone before his call to Putin, not via written materials, and no one on the call advised him not to congratulate him. In fact, one White House source did claim that to Fox News.

Trump can’t really use that spin, though, as it implies that he would have followed orders from his staff and refused to congratulate Putin if only he’d been told to do so. That would make him look weak and easily led. Better to reaffirm his interest in good relations with, uhh, the guy who interfered in the last U.S. presidential campaign than claim that the subject of congratulating Putin never came up.

Lastly, he could have pointed out the various ways in which he really has been confrontational with Russia. New sanctions. Antitank missiles for Ukraine. Solidarity with the UK over the Skripal matter. And coming soon: Tearing up the nuclear deal with Moscow’s friends in Iran. That is, he could have used the news over the “congratulations” thing to counterprogram the narrative that he’s endlessly doing Putin’s bidding. Instead he played into it by not only pining again for better relations with Russia but blaming his two predecessors, Bush and Obama, rather than Putin for the adversarial U.S./Russian relationship of the past 15 years. Bananas. If “Little Rocket Man” could stand some insults from the presidential Twitter account and still be willing to make, Putin can stand it too.

Exit question: Has the time come to put the phone away?

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REPORT: McCabe Authorized Criminal Probe of AG Sessions After Top Dem Senators Urged FBI to Investigate “All Contacts” Sessions May Have Had With Russians




Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired dirty cop Andrew McCabe late Friday evening just days before his scheduled retirement and the fake news media lost their minds.

The investigation into McCabe’s corruption started BEFORE Trump became president but the fake news media is making it sound like the firing of the Deputy Director of the FBI was ‘politically motivated.

It is now being reported Andrew McCabe authorized the criminal probe into Attorney General Sessions after top Democrat Senators urged the FBI to investigate all his contacts with Russians.

ABC News reported:

Nearly a year before Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired senior FBI official Andrew McCabe for what Sessions called a “lack of candor,” McCabe oversaw a federal criminal investigation into whether Sessions lacked candor when testifying before Congress about contacts with Russian operatives, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly accused Sessions of misleading them in congressional testimony and called on federal authorities to investigate, but McCabe’s previously-unreported decision to actually put the attorney general in the crosshairs of an FBI probe was an exceptional move.

One source told ABC News that Sessions was not aware of the investigation when he decided to fire McCabe last Friday less than 48 hours before McCabe, a former FBI deputy director, was due to retire from government and obtain a full pension, but an attorney representing Sessions declined to confirm that.


According to the sources, McCabe authorized the criminal inquiry after a top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and then-Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., wrote a letter in March 2017 to the FBI urging agents to investigate “all contacts” Sessions may have had with Russians, and “whether any laws were broken in the course of those contacts or in any subsequent discussion of whether they occurred.”

It’s unclear how actively federal authorities pursued the matter in the months before Sessions’ interview with Mueller’s investigators. It’s also unclear whether the special counsel may still be pursuing other matters related to Sessions and statements he has made to Congress – or others – since his confirmation.

In March 2017 Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he will recuse himself from investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign including the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.


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Joe Biden: In high school I would have slapped the taste out of Trump’s mouth for the “Access Hollywood” comments




Not the first time that the former Vice President of the United States has fantasized about taking the current President of the United States and kicking a knot in his ass, if only somehow time travel were possible. Is that just “Joe being Joe”?

The last time he said it was during the 2016 campaign, so this must be Joe just being Joe. Although…

“When a guy who ended up becoming our national leader said, ‘I can grab a woman anywhere and she likes it,’” Biden said. “They asked me if I’d like to debate this gentleman, and I said no. I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.’”

Biden made another jab. “I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life. I’m a pretty damn good athlete,” he said. “Any guy that talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest SOB in the room.”

Taking a tough-guy approach to Trump isn’t a bad macro strategy for 2020. It scratches Democrats’ anti-Trump itch; it panders to women by presenting Biden as their valiant defender; it appeals, in theory, to the working-class voters who responded to Trump’s alpha-male swagger last time; and it distinguishes Biden from a Democratic field whose most formidable candidates are shaping up to be women. Unless Bernie Sanders runs again, the big three among current officeholders in 2020 might be Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Could be that Biden’s trying to brand himself as the most ferocious “fighter” by, ah, posturing literally as a fighter. Although many would dispute it (and some who don’t would be loath to admit it), it may be that a woman nominee is an especially risky match-up for Trump because they’re already battling a stereotype that women leaders aren’t as tough as male ones are. With Trump that problem is magnified because so much of his own persona is based on “toughness” and “strength.” Did that contribute to Hillary’s razor-thin deficits in the Rust Belt two years ago? No way to tell, but *if* there’s a problem for Dems in being seen as too soft, nominating Fightin’ Joe might solve it.

Or maybe Biden’s just trying to bait Trump cronies into responses like this:

Ah well. In an alternate universe, on Earth 2, Trump said this about Biden first and CNN is doing round-the-clock concern-trolling about a holder of high office proposing violence as an answer to disfavored speech.

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