Former Wichita Congressman Mike Pompeo is set to be the next U.S. secretary of state.
President Donald Trump announced the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday. Trump said in an early morning tweet that Pompeo, currently the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, would succeed Tillerson and “do a fantastic job!”
The switch at the top of the country’s diplomatic corps comes as Trump edges closer to delicate negotiations with North Korea over the rogue country’s nuclear weapons program.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
Trump’s tweet came a few hours after Tillerson returned to the nation’s capital after a trip to Africa. Rumors of Tillerson’s departure, disputed by the secretary of state, had circulated in Washington for months.
“I am 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,” Pompeo said in a statement released by the White House. “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.
"Serving alongside the great men and women of the CIA, the most dedicated and talented public servants I have encountered, has been one of the great honors of my life.”
Pompeo, 54, represented Kansas’ 4th Congressional District from 2011 to 2017 as a Republican. He left in January 2017 after Trump asked him to lead the CIA.
A graduate of West Point, Pompeo served in the U.S. Army from 1986 to 1991. He also is a graduate of Harvard Law School.
Before entering politics, he formed a Wichita aviation company – Thayer Aerospace – and also worked in the oil industry.
In his role at the CIA, Pompeo gave daily briefings to Trump. He also served on the National Security Council and worked with foreign liaison partners.
In a speech in Wichita in November, he described Trump as “energetic, hard-working and a patriot on extraordinary levels.”
He said the president will often ask many questions during the daily briefings and helps provide insight.
"We have folks that will stare at a problem for a long time, and he will provide insights thinking about things in a way that we haven’t, and sends us back to the drawing board to do better, just in the way good leaders do in an organization," Pompeo said.
Rep. Ron Estes, who replaced Pompeo in Congress, said in a statement, “With increasing threats abroad from a belligerent Russia and Islamist terrorism, it's vitally important that we have someone like Mike, who has extensive private sector and military experience, to serve as our top diplomat."
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts said in a statement, “His military and intelligence background will serve him well to lead the State Department, and I look forward to working with my Kansas colleague in this new capacity.”
Tillerson’s firing comes less than a week after Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. NPR quoted a senior administration official as saying, "The president wanted to make sure to have his new team in place in advance of the upcoming talks with North Korea and various ongoing trade negotiations."
Tillerson's actions had seemed to conflict with statements made by the president, sometimes muddying American foreign policy on key issues. Last fall, NBC reported that Tillerson had referred to the president as a “moron.” Tillerson never directly denied using that term.
At the same time, various news reports have suggested Trump felt more comfortable working with Pompeo. The CIA's deputy director, Gina Haspel, will take over the agency, Trump said on Twitter. She would be the CIA's first female director.
Both appointments are subject to confirmation from the U.S. Senate, where Republicans are expected to endorse the GOP president’s choices.
The Associated Press reported that two officials familiar with the situation said that Tillerson had been fired by Trump on Friday, while in Africa.
Tillerson had cut short his trip by one night after telling journalists he’d been sick and that news of Trump’s willingness to meet with North Korea had led to long nights of work.
"I felt like, look, I just need to get back," Tillerson told reporters traveling with him.
Scott Canon, digital editor for the Kansas News Service, contributed to this report.
Tom Shine is KMUW's director of news and public affairs. Follow him on Twitter @thomaspshine.
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