Diplomatic Row As U.K. Blames Russia For Spy Poisoning

Soldiers wearing protective clothing cover a tow truck in Hyde Road, Gillingham, Dorset, England as the investigation into the suspected nerve agent attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal continues Wednesday March 14, 2018. The army cordoned off a road in Dorset on Wednesday as the investigated the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Authorities have cordoned off several sites in and near Salisbury, 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of London as part of their probe. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)

Soldiers wearing protective clothing cover a tow truck in Hyde Road, Gillingham, Dorset, England as the investigation into the suspected nerve agent attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal continues Wednesday March 14, 2018. The army cordoned off a road in Dorset on Wednesday as the investigated the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Authorities have cordoned off several sites in and near Salisbury, 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of London as part of their probe. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)

The U.K. expels 23 Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning of a former spy. We’ll look at the escalating tensions between Russia and America’s closest ally.

This show airs Thursday at 10 a.m. EST.


Ellen Barry, New York Times international correspondent. (@EllenBarryNYT)

Sam Greene, director of King's College London's Russia Institute. (@samagreene)

Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, professor of political science, Stanford University. (@McFaul)

Natasha Bertrand, national security reporter, The Atlantic. (@natashabertrand)

From The Reading List:

CBS News: UK Announces Measures Against Russia For Attack On Ex-Spy — "British Prime Minister Theresa May announced punitive measures against Russia on Wednesday over the chemical weapon attack on Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury."

Prime Minister Theresa May stood before Parliament and said without equivocation, the nerve agent poisoning of a former spy was the “unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom”. The UK is expelling almost two dozen Russian diplomats in response. Moscow says London is scapegoating Russia.

This hour, On Point: A poisoned spy, and a test of the US-UK special relationship.

--Meghna Chakrabarti

This program aired on March 15, 2018. Audio will be available soon.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ousted in favor of CIA chief amid rumblings of more changes

WASHINGTON – After months of disputes with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, President Trump removed him Tuesday and nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo to head the State Department.

White House officials said a Tillerson aide was also fired for giving reporters differing accounts of how the secretary of State learned of his fate. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the move.

The officials said they are bracing for more staff changes, citing Trump's comment  Tuesday as he prepared to fly to California: "I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want."

Tillerson, who said Trump called him hours after he tweeted an announcement about Pompeo's nomination, said his last day would be March 31, and he pledged an "orderly and smooth transition."

Trump said he made the decision on Tillerson, citing disagreements with the secretary of State that included North Korea diplomacy, steel and aluminum tariffs and the Iran nuclear agreement.

"I think Rex will be much happier now," Trump said.

Tillerson, whose voice cracked at times during a brief statement at the State Department, did not take questions.

Steve Goldstein, the Tillerson aide who was fired, said Tillerson wanted to stay as secretary of State.

As for Pompeo, Trump praised his new nominee's "tremendous energy, tremendous intellect" and said, "We’re always on the same wavelength. The relationship has been very good, and that’s what I need as secretary of State."

Trump said in a written statement that at the State Department, Pompeo "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."

Before his departure to California, Trump said he got along with Tillerson, but they disagreed on things. Trump cited the Iran nuclear deal in particular: "I think it's terrible. I guess he feels it was OK."  He complimented Tillerson for "his commitment and his service, and I wish him well. He’s a good man.”

Goldstein, undersecretary for public diplomacy, said Tillerson "did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason" for the decision.

"The secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security," Goldstein said. "He will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and the foreign ministers he has worked with throughout the world."

Hours later, Goldstein was fired.

The two anonymous White House officials said chief of staff John Kelly spoke with Tillerson on Friday and Saturday about the change. 

“It was clear on Friday,” one of the officials said. 

The State Department said Tillerson did not speak to Trump — something White House officials confirmed — and the secretary didn't know about the final decision until the tweet.

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will serve as acting secretary of State.

In a written statement from the White House, Pompeo said that, if confirmed, "I look forward to guiding the world’s finest diplomatic corps in formulating and executing the president’s foreign policy."

In his time at the CIA, the former Kansas congressman said, "I have worked alongside many remarkable Foreign Service officers and Department of State leaders serving here in the United States and on the very edge of freedom."

Gina Haspel, deputy director of the CIA, would become the agency's first woman director of the CIA.

A 30-year veteran of the CIA, Haspel said, "I look forward to providing President Trump the outstanding intelligence support he has grown to expect during his first year in office."

Pompeo and Haspel must be confirmed by the Senate.

The administration's critics described Tillerson's abrupt dismissal as another sign of administration disarray. "The instability of this administration in just about every area weakens America," said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “If he’s confirmed, we hope that Mr. Pompeo will turn over a new leaf and will start toughening up our policies towards Russia and (President Vladimir) Putin.”

Trump’s tweet Tuesday came the day after Tillerson blamed Russia for an assassination of an ex-spy in London — something the White House declined to do hours before.

After the Tillerson announcement, Trump said Tuesday that it "sounds to me like it will be Russia based on all the evidence they have" and that the United States will condemn the Russians if the British present sufficient evidence. Trump said he will speak today with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

A former Exxon executive, Tillerson had business dealings with Russia, a source of controversy when Trump nominated him to head the State Department. A special counsel is investigating whether there were ties between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russians who sought to influence that race via hacked emails and fake news.

Last Thursday, Tillerson said it would be premature for Trump to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. That evening, Trump said he would meet Kim by May to discuss the future of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Last year, Tillerson said the United States should talk with North Korea, a suggestion Trump quickly shot down.

Tillerson opposed Trump's decision this month to impose tariffs on certain steel and aluminum imports.

Tillerson Ousted by Trump: State Department Goes From Bad to Worse

Uber-hawk Pompeo, CIA director, takes over as America's chief diplomat

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to anchor Trump in the world of fact-based reality, but they often clashed. Andrew Harnik/AP

Concerning the State Department today, there's good news and bad news.

The good news is that Rex Tillerson, the ultra-wealthy former Exxon Mobil CEO who's been called "the worst Secretary of State in living memory," is out, fired via Twitter by President Trump, after presiding over a 14-month-long gutting of the department. During his tenure, as Rolling Stone reported last August, Tillerson gutted the organization, drove countless experienced diplomats to the exits, and failed to oppose draconian budget cuts demanded by the White House that further threatened to eviscerate the State Department's power.

How Rex Tillerson Turned the State Department Into a Ghost Ship

Trump's secretary of state has made choices resulting in rows of empty offices and plummeting morale

The bad news is also that Tillerson is out, to be replaced by current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a blustering hawk in sync with Trump's worst instincts for confrontation and go-it-alone risk-taking in global affairs. Despite his record of incompetence and his failure to consult regularly with the department's veteran diplomats and foreign policy experts, Tillerson at least acted as one of the few "adults" in the Trump administration, serving as a restraint of sorts on issues from the Paris climate change accord to the nuclear accord with Iran to the showdown over North Korea.

The firing was hardly a surprise. It's been widely known for many months that Trump and Tillerson didn't get along and that they had major disagreements on a wide range of issues. Indeed, as Rolling Stone noted in early December, the Tillerson-to-Pompeo switch was rumored as long ago as last fall. But Tillerson's ouster today was particularly ignominious. Though he was reportedly warned last Friday by John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, that his tenure would soon come to an end, Tillerson only learned that in fact he'd been fired today when he learned of the president's tweet during a visit to Africa.

"It is clear that Tillerson was an incredibly ineffective Secretary of State," says Max Bergmann, a fellow at the Center for American Progress who served for six years at the State Department during the Obama administration. "He had fairly conventional views, which puts him at odds with Trump's more radical inclinations," Bergmann tells Rolling Stone. "Tillerson clearly had little influence on the White House, a poor relationship with Trump, and was barely present on the international stage. While Tillerson may have been a voice of some sanity, he also set about gutting the State Department and put a lie to the notion that government needs good businessmen to run it."

But Bergmann worries that Pompeo, who now faces what promises to be a contentious confirmation hearing in the Senate, will make things worse.
"Pompeo clearly clicks with the President, which is many ways is very concerning," says Bergmann. "His radically hawkish views mean the United States could be heading down a very dangerous path with North Korea and Iran."

In a brief, noise-filled news conference with reporters, Trump was frank about admitting that he and Tillerson had significant differences on Iran in particular. "We disagreed on things," said Trump, shouting to be heard over background noise. "Look at the Iran deal. I think it's terrible. I guess he – it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something. And he felt a little bit differently."

In fact, Trump has promised to tear up the U.S.-Iran agreement, an Obama-negotiated accord signed in 2015 that successfully blocked Iran from pursuing a path toward nuclear arms, in May. It's a deadline, artificially created by the president, that could upend the agreement and put the United States and Iran once again on a course toward military confrontation. "Pompeo will enable Trump's worst ideological instincts on issues like the Iran nuclear deal," Colin Kahl, former national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, tells Rolling Stone. "This move is occurring against the backdrop of an impending North Korea summit, talks with the Europeans on saving the Iran deal, the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and managing the geopolitical fallout over steel and aluminum tariffs. North Korea could be particularly problematic given the gamble Trump is taking to meet with Kim Jong Un, the lack of a North Korea envoy and the absence of a U.S. ambassador to South Korea, and Tillerson's role in overseeing outreach to Pyongyang and Beijing. So, it isn't a great time to fire the Secretary of State."

President Trump speaks to reporters before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 13th, 2018. Andrew Harnik/AP
On many of those issues, Tillerson tried to anchor Trump in the world of fact-based reality. On Iran, over the past several months, Tillerson joined a shrinking, moderate chorus of voices inside the administration urging the president to stick with the deal, whereas Pompeo has long been a strident voice against the Iran accord. On climate change, despite his track record as the longtime CEO of one of the world's biggest producers of fossil fuels, Tillerson unsuccessfully tried to persuade Trump not to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, to which virtually all of the world's nations subscribe – whereas Pompeo, a former member of Congress from Kansas, has long been close to the radical-right, Kansas-based Koch brothers, staunch opponents of the Paris agreement. When Trump, egged on by Jared Kushner, inflamed tensions in the Persian Gulf, pitting a newly energized, radical Saudi crown prince against nearby, tiny Qatar last summer, Tillerson tried to ease tensions, where Pompeo enthusiastically joined Trump in signing an anti-terrorism pact with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, who are leading the anti-Qatar offensive.

And on North Korea, Tillerson doggedly sought to emphasize the primacy of diplomacy over many months, earning him the scorn of Trump's tweets – one of which warned Tillerson that he was "wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," referring to the North Korean dictator, Kim Jung Un. And when Trump impulsively decided that he'd meet one-on-one with Kim, a risky move that many experts warned could end badly – and which was made without consulting the secretary of state – Tillerson quietly noted that so far, at least, North Korea hasn't confirmed that Kim is ready to meet and he urged the White House to proceed with caution and to make careful preparations. And, unlike Tillerson, who's spoken out in opposition to regime change in North Korea – that is, against toppling Kim by force – Pompeo has said that he hopes the United States can "find a way to separate that regime from this system," and he's gone so far as to hint about Kim's assassination. "I am just not going to talk about that. Someone might think there was a coincidence if, you know, there was an accident," Pompeo said in October.

Of course, last year, Tillerson, speaking privately, famously called Trump a "fucking moron," a declaration that Tillerson refused to deny when pressed, probably at that moment sealing his fate as secretary of state. Indeed, the subject arose during Trump's brief meeting with the press on Tuesday, with the president either not hearing, or pretending not to hear, the shouted questions. The transcript reads:

Reporter: Did you fire him because he called you a moron?

Trump: What?

Reporter: Did you fire him because he called you a moron?

Trump: Say it again.

Meet Gina Haspel, Trump's CIA Pick Who Oversaw Torture

As director of a CIA black site in 2002, Haspel oversaw some of the first "enhanced interrogations" in the War on Terror – now she might run the CIA

Meanwhile, Trump's decision to replace Pompeo at the CIA with Deputy Director Gina Haspel, who'd be the first woman to run that agency, has also raised questions. Spencer Ackerman, writing for the Daily Beast, notes bluntly that during the administration of George W. Bush Haspel "ran an off-the-books prison in Thailand used as a torture laboratory for the earliest detained terrorism suspects."

"Haspel has an impressive record as a CIA officer and is widely respected within the Agency, but it has also been publicly reported that she was directly involved in the decision to use enhanced interrogation techniques under the Bush Administration and in the subsequent destruction of taped evidence of these interrogations," said Representative Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is the ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in a statement released on Tuesday. "Given the enthusiasm the President has evinced for the use of torture during the campaign, it will be vital that Deputy Director Haspel answer specific questions about her views and whether she would comply with an order to restart the Agency's enhanced interrogation program."

President Trump commented on the firing of Secretary Tillerson Tuesday morning, citing "differences."



In an un-credited article on the front page of the Iowa City Press-Citizen (Wednesday, March 14, 2008) under the mass heard: USA TODAY NETWORK, headlined: “Trump fires Tillerson,” is recorded the real reason that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson firing:

“Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday blamed Russia for an assignation attempt on an ex-spy in Great Britain.

On Tuesday morning, Tillerson learned via Twitter that he had been fired by President Donald Trump.

Trump said he made the decision on Tillerson, citing disagreements with the secretary of state, including on North Korea.”

What Rex Tillerson's Firing Means For The Future Of U.S. Diplomacy46:49

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Cliff Owen/AP)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Cliff Owen/AP)
Rex Tillerson was fired Tuesday as America’s top diplomat.

President Trump’s decision to replace his secretary of state with CIA Director Mike Pompeo has been anticipated for months, but the timing and manner of the move caught Washington, and Tillerson, by surprise.

On Point

46:40Mar 13, 2018

“We have somebody from the State Department basically saying that he didn't know this was coming,” said Nahal Toosi, Politico foreign affairs correspondent, on the NPR program On Point. “And so this shocked just about everybody watching.”

We jumped on the subject Tuesday morning, shortly after the news was announced. We talked to Toosi, as well as  Michael Warren, senior writer, the Weekly Standard, Anne Applebaum, Washington Post columnist, and Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School.

The shock of Tillerson’s sudden departure continued into Tuesday afternoon: The State Department official who said Tillerson didn’t see his ouster coming was also fired, according to reports.

“When February rolled around and (Tillerson) hit his one year mark, there was a sense that he kind of hit his stride,” Noosi said. “There was a sense that he was settling in, that he had maybe patched over his differences with the president. But again this is a Trump administration and things are never always as they seem.”

Here are highlights from our conversation with our panel:

What It Signals About The Future

Applebaum: “Yesterday I had a conversation with somebody who has worked with Tillerson at the State Department and he was describing how the department functioned, and he told he said, ‘Well, we make foreign policy without Trump. We ignore his tweets. We don't pay attention what he says. We just go on acting like we're a normal administration.’ That's an interesting way to conduct foreign policy, but I wonder how long it's going to last. Now we see that it doesn't. So it seems it seems clear that Trump has wanted somebody who somehow reflects more his own view, whatever that is.”

Pompeo As Iran Deal Hawk

Warren: “President Trump doesn't have quite have hard and fast views on a lot of particular issues. He does not like the Iran, deal but he doesn't really have a strong view about what to do about it. Mike Pompeo, on the other hand, is somebody who thought a lot about this he thought a lot about this and argued against the Iran deal in Congress.”

Big Picture: Diplomacy Takes A Back Seat

Walt: “You have a White House that didn't have much regard for the State Department from the very beginning but at the same time you also had a secretary of state who never seemed to actually be comfortable with the department that he was leading. … You had essentially both the White House and the State Department that not only were not in sync with each other but never seemed to have a clear idea of the role that diplomacy was going to play.”

What Our Allies Are Saying

Applebaum: "Trump is seen as having undermined several decades of building American friendship, several decades of policy, the creation of smooth trade regimes, the creation of allied military operations — all of that is seen as having been destroyed. So you know the appointment of Pompeo is going to be greeted as, OK we're going to roll our eyes and get ready for another barrage of chaos and another barrage of disorganization in the United States."

The Russia Question

Walt: “It's clear that Tillerson was more critical of Russia, and I think he was more willing to sort of acknowledge Russia's efforts to manipulate American politics than the president has been. It's also worth noting however that Mike Pompeo, the person who's now been designated to succeed him, has also supported the intelligence community's conclusions that Russia was involved here.”

The Torture Question — Pompeo’s potential successor as CIA director, Gina Haspel, was involved in Bush-era torture

Walt: “I think it's going to be an appointment that the CIA actually welcomes because it's an insider and they prefer to be led by insiders, rather than by outsiders who occasionally try to shake things up. I would also anticipate it's going to get some pushback at least from Democrats in Congress given her involvement in Bush era torture activities as well.”


Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School. (@stephenwalt)

Michael Warren, senior writer, the Weekly Standard. (@MichaelRWarren)

Anne Applebaum, Washington Post columnist. (@anneapplebaum)

Nahal Toosi, foreign affairs correspondent, Politico. (@nahaltoosi)

From The Reading List:

New York Times: Rex Tillerson Out As Trump's Secretary Of State, Replaced By Mike P... — President Trump announced Tuesday that Mike Pompeo, now the C.I.A. director, will become secretary of state, replacing Rex W. Tillerson, ending his short but tumultuous tenure as the nation’s chief diplomat. Mr. Tillerson found himself repeatedly at odds with Mr. Trump on a variety of key foreign policy issues.

This program aired on March 13, 2018.

Views: 77

Comment by mary gravitt on March 15, 2018 at 11:50am

Don't fool yourselves, by trying to get back into the good graces of the Kochs, Trump has open a new can of worms.  Firing Comey was bad enough.  Now he has fired Tillerson for speaking out against the Russians.  Why won't Trump say anything bad about the Russians? 

Comment by koshersalaami on March 15, 2018 at 12:04pm

Because he values loyalty above all else

Comment by Ron Powell on March 15, 2018 at 12:24pm

"Why won't Trump say anything bad about the Russians?"


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