Rex Tillerson lived and died around the one real “Red Line” that exists for Donald Trump—his relationship to Russia.
Rex Tillerson was a surprise selection for Secretary of State. His name was not among those suggested early on. In fact, he seemed to be a last moment decision, made based on a single factor: He had a good relationship with Vladimir Putin and had negotiated a huge contract between Russia and Exxon. Since taking office, Tillerson has attempted to be the model Trump employee. He’s left the offices of the State Department empty and done nothing about the dozens of open ambassadorships around the world. He’s negotiated no deals. He’s made no policy. He’s accepted humiliating public tongue-lashings from Trump—including having his own selection for deputy overridden.
None of that was enough to protect Tillerson when he dared suggest that not only was Russia behind a nerve agent attack in the UK, but that the United States would take action to protect their closest ally and NATO partner.
On Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a strong statement, indicting Russia for an attack on British soil that contaminated as many as 500 people with a nerve agent designed for chemical warfare. May gave the Russians until Tuesday to respond and promised that she would exact retribution for the Russian attack.
Shortly thereafter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was confronted by reporters at the daily White House press conference. But she promised nothing in the way of action, and critically refused to say that Russia was involved in the poisoning of people in the UK.
REPORTER: So you’re not saying that Russia was behind this act?
SANDERS: Right now, we are standing with our UK ally. I think they’re still working through even some of the details of that.
But a few hours later, Rex Tillerson didn’t attempt to hide the truth. On board a plane bound for Africa, Tillerson called the attack “a really egregious act,” said that the attack was clearly from Russia, and promised that the United States would act to defend it’s ally.
And just like that, he was gone.
It wasn’t the first time that Tillerson received a kick from Trump. Early on, Tillerson picked Elliott Abrams, who had been assistant secretary of state under Reagan, to fill that same role for Trump. But after Tillerson made the mistake of contradicting Trump on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, saying at it was bad for US companies to bribe foreign officials, Tillerson was punishing by being told that Abrams would not get a hearing.
In the summer of 2017, Tillerson and Trump butted heads over Trump’s desire to greatly expand the US nuclear arsenal—at a cost of trillions and the rollback of every nuclear treaty since the 1960s. Tillerson was reported to have called Trump a “fucking moron,” after which he reportedly offered to resign. A few months later, Trump took to Twitter to issue a humiliating slap to Tillerson on negotiations with North Korea while Tillerson was meeting with officials from South Korea. After which Tillerson supposedly offered to resign. Again. Multiple times in the fall, Trump took actions that seemed designed to undercut Tillerson and leave him unable to conduct any sort of negotiation.
So it seems perfectly fitting that Trump dismissed Tillerson, while he was in another country, attempting to fill his damaged role, within his crippled department, and did so without so much as a phone call.
“The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve,” State Department Under Secretary Steve Goldstein says of Rex Tillerson’s departure https://t.co/23L6tgHMhq pic.twitter.com/qVhvfURjyw
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 13, 2018
When Donald Trump dismissed James Comey, he was was on the road in California. Trump was reportedly furious that he was allowed to ride back to DC on a government plane. It’s not clear if he intends to leave Tillerson in Africa.