The State Department confirmed to CNN that Tillerson found out he was fired from Trump’s tweet. Two other sources told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan the same thing.
In a statement to CBS News, State Department Under Secretary Steve Goldstein said Tillerson “had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security.”
“He will miss his colleagues at the the Department of State and the foreign ministers he has worked with throughout the world,” Goldstein added.
Brennan said Goldstein also told her, “The Secretary did not speak to the President this morning and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling and not to be regretted.”
According to The Washington Post, Trump first asked the secretary of state to step aside on Friday, prompting Tillerson to cut short a trip to Africa to return to Washington, D.C., on Monday.
A senior White House official told Politico that Trump wanted a new team in place before he sits down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by May. Trump shocked many around the world when he abruptly announced last week that he would be the first president in history to meet with a sitting North Korean leader.
Tillerson spoke briefly about North Korea during a press conference in Nigeria on Monday, but gave no indication that it would impact his job, per Politico. Instead, he told reporters that U.S. officials had not yet heard any direct response from North Korea regarding Trump accepting their invitation, and said plans for the meeting are “in the very early stages.”
The news seemed to blindside Tillerson’s inner circle at the State Department, with one official, reached for comment as news broke, saying only, “Wow. I’ll have to call you back.”
Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, has had a complicated relationship with the president since he took the job following Trump’s inauguration last year. Last fall, Tillerson made headlines after he reportedly called the president a “f—— moron” in a meeting. Afterwards, he hastily arranged a press conference at the State Department to reaffirm his commitment to Trump, and notably declined to address the comments specifically.
Trump later commented on the “moron” report, and offered to compare IQ tests with Tillerson.
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“I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests,” he said. “And I can tell you who is going to win.”
Trump spoke to reporters Tuesday shortly after tweeting news of Tillerson’s surprise departure, and acknowledged the two did not always see eye to eye.
“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things,” he said, noting the Iran deal in particular. He also said he made the decision himself to fire Tillerson.
Trump added that he and Pompeo have a more “similar thought process” and that he thinks their working relationship is “going to go very well.”
Tillerson also spoke about his firing in a press conference on Tuesday, saying he “received a call today from the President of the United States a little after noon time.” (Trump’s tweet about Tillerson’s ousting came earlier, at 8:44 a.m.)
Axios reported that Tillerson didn’t take questions at the presser and thanked “300 plus million Americans for your devotion to a free and open society, for acts of kindness, honesty.” His last official day in the White House is March 31.
Tillerson’s ouster is the latest in a long line of resignations and firings within the Trump administration. Thirteen days ago, Trump’s communications director, Hope Hicks, handed in her resignation. A source told PEOPLE at the time that “she had enough.”
The Wall Street Journal also reported Tuesday that Trump’s personal assistant, John McEntee, was also fired this week due to an unspecified security issue, and escorted out of the White House on Monday. A lesser known aide, the Journal reports McEntee’s duties included delivering messages to Trump in the White House residence, making sure clocks were set correctly and that he had markers for autographs.
When reached for comment, White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters told PEOPLE the White House does “not comment on personnel matters.”
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported that McEntee was fired “because he is currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes.”
Citing a source familiar with McEntee’s firing, Collins added that the charges are reportedly “not Trump related.”
Despite the abrupt departure, the Trump reelection campaign announced Tuesday that McEntee would be joining as a senior advisor, according to The Hill. McEntee initially joined the Trump campaign three years ago.