Rex Tillerson's Rise and Fall, as Told by Trump Tweets

The secretary of state was, of course, fired on Twitter, where he and the president have had a long, strange history.
Image by author via JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Another day, another Trump cabinet member bites the dust. On Tuesday morning, the president tweeted that CIA director Mike Pompeo would replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, and that Gina Haspel would be the first woman to lead the CIA.

To say Tillerson's ouster was a surprise move wouldn't be quite right—this shake-up has been rumored for months now. Still, as reported by the AP's Josh Lederman, who was with Tillerson in the hours before his firing, "There was zero indication on flight home that this was imminent." Meanwhile, a State Department official told CNN's Elise Labott "that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson found out he was fired from President Trump's tweet."


Since Tillerson's and Trump's relationship ended by way of a mighty tweet, it's only appropriate to look back at the tweets that got us here.

December 2016

Remember December 2016? Simpler times! Barack Obama was still president, his successor misused quotation marks in a tweet not-so-subtly hinting at Tillerson's appointment, and it was hard to envision just how chaotic the Trump administration would be. Two days later, Trump took to Twitter to formalize the announcement.

"The thing I like best about Rex Tillerson is that he has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments," Trump added, also on Twitter.

February 2017

Trump congratulated Tillerson on his confirmation. "He will be a star!" the president predicted. And hey! He wasn't wrong.

October 2017

Fast-forward eight months, and much of the Trump administration has begun to resign, or in the words of Donald Trump, "[has gotten] fired!" Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer, Michael Dubke, Steve Bannon, Anthony Scaramucci, and Sebastian Gorka are no more. But despite the odds, Rex is hanging on by the skin of his teeth.

Still, Tillerson's firing seemed inevitable. On the first of the month, Trump undermined his secretary of state's diplomatic efforts with North Korea when he tweeted the following:

Soon after, it was reported that Tillerson called Trump a "moron," something the former secretary of state never denied. In response to the report, he said at a press conference, "The places I come from, we don't deal with that kind of petty nonsense and it's intended to do nothing but divide people. And I'm not going to be part of this effort to divide the administration."


Meanwhile, the NBC News report that alleged Tillerson called Trump a "moron" also asserted that the secretary of state had threatened to quit. In response, Trump decried the report as "Fake News" on Twitter.

Despite Trump and Tillerson's denials of his imminent departure, a month later, the Washington Post reported Pompeo was already preparing to take over the State Department.

December 2017

The continued flailing here kind of speaks for itself.

February 2018

Tillerson sat down with 60 Minutes's Margaret Brennan, who asked him about the "moron" thing. He replied, "That's a really old question" and "I think I've answered the question" and "I'm not gonna dignify the question."

March 2018

Finally, on March 13, not long after both White House Communications director Hope Hicks and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn announced their resignations, Trump took to Twitter to fire ol' Rex.

In a press conference Tuesday, the president spoke further on his latest staffing upset. "Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time," he explained. "We got along actually quite well. But we disagreed on things… Rex is a very good man. I like Rex a lot. I really appreciate his commitment and his service. And I’ll be speaking to Rex over a long period of time."

The president continued,

I really didn’t discuss it very much with him honestly. I made that decision by myself. Rex wasn’t, as you know, in this country. I made the North Korea decision with consultation from many people but I made that decision by myself. I actually got along well with Rex. But really it was a different mind-set. It was a different thinking.


CNN's Kaitlan Collins then asked, "Did you fire him because he called you a moron?"

"What?" Trump responded.

"Did you fire him because he called you a moron?" Collins repeated.

"Say it again," Trump commanded, before noting, "I wish Rex a lot of good things. I think he’s going to do—I think he’s going to be very happy. I think Rex will be much happier now."

And just like that, Rex was gone, no tears were shed, and Trump refocused his Twitter attention on a less delicate topic: his beloved border wall.

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