President Donald Trump unceremoniously dumped Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday—via Twitter—and picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to shift from America’s spy chief to its top diplomat. The abrupt announcement ended the turbulent tenure of the man who reportedly called the president a “moron” but wanted to stay, and deepened the disarray in the Trump administration.
The plans to oust Tillerson had been drawn up months ago, but the timing caught even senior White House officials unaware. The firing was just the latest in an exodus of administration officials, including those in Trump’s inner circle, with the president already setting records for staff turnover and several other Cabinet secretaries facing ethics investigations.
However, Trump emphatically rejected talk of chaos in his year-old administration as he nears a pivotal moment on the international stage with his planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He declared Tuesday, “I’m really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.”
He said he was nominating the CIA’s deputy director, Gina Haspel, to take over for Pompeo at the intelligence agency. If confirmed, Haspel would be the CIA’s first female director
As for Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil CEO whom Trump picked as his administration’s top Cabinet official, the president said simply, “We disagreed on things.”
No doubt that was true, one prime example being the agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear efforts. Trump’s change puts Pompeo, an ardent foe of the Iran nuclear deal, in charge of U.S. diplomacy as the president decides whether to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement.
Tillerson had pushed Trump to remain and had been pursuing a delicate strategy with European allies and others to try to improve or augment the Obama-era deal to Trump’s liking.
“We were not really thinking the same,” Trump said.
Public policy aside, in the view of current and former White House officials, Tillerson’s “moron” comment to senior administration officials last summer—and the subsequent revelation in the press—permanently eroded trust between the two men, and it was only a matter of time before Tillerson would be pushed out.
Tillerson himself, his voice occasionally quavering, gave brief farewell remarks at the State Department, thanking department staff and diplomats around the world—but not mentioning Trump except to say that he’d spoken by phone to the president Tuesday while Trump was on Air Force One, hours after the tweeted firing.
The gulf that separated the two men was illustrated one last time by conflicting stories on the circumstances of the firing.
Trump kept the timing to an unusually close circle that included Chief of Staff John Kelly and Vice President Mike Pence, officials said. Pompeo was brought into the White House on Friday after returning from an overseas trip and was offered the job formally by phone Saturday.
Kelly was given the task of phoning Tillerson, who was in Africa, but the nature of their conversation was up for dispute.
White House officials said Kelly told Tillerson that Trump wanted a change and he should step down. Tillerson, the White House said, asked that Trump wait until he returned to the U.S., and he shortened his trip to Africa—where much of his mission revolved around softening the impact of Trump’s recent reported criticisms.
However, Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein and other State Department officials said that Tillerson hadn’t learned he was being dismissed until he saw Trump’s early-Tuesday tweet and hadn’t discussed it directly with the president. Goldstein said Tillerson was “unaware of the reason” he was fired and “had every intention of staying,” feeling he was making progress on national security.
That was the end for Goldstein. Hours later, he was fired, too.
Even after Tuesday’s announcement, the White House and Tillerson aides were still struggling to determine when and how Tillerson would exit. After hours of bureaucratic tug-of-war, Tillerson, in his final somber turn before the cameras, said he would be delegating his responsibilities to deputy secretary John Sullivan at the end of the workday and would resign effective at the end of the month.
“I will now return to private life, private citizen, a proud American, proud of the opportunity I’ve had to serve my country,” he said.
From the start, the former Exxon chief had been an unlikely pick for top diplomat, with no formal experience but a lifetime’s worth of personal relationships with heads of state and powerful global figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump had boasted to allies that he “looked the part” of the nation’s chief diplomat, but differences in style and ideology quickly came to a head.
While he espoused unconventional views on the organization of the State Department—and made sweeping reform of the bureaucracy his top concern—Tillerson proved to be cut from the same cloth of the national security conservatives who have dominated the GOP for decades. He had been recommended for the post by Condoleezza Rice and James Baker.
Tillerson’s insult to Trump’s intelligence came after heated discussions about Afghanistan policy, in which Trump had pushed to end the U.S. presence altogether and flirted with outsourcing the military counterterrorism campaign to private contractors. Hours before his firing was made public, Tillerson vocally condemned Russia for allegedly poisoning an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom, even as the White House declined to assert blame.
The pair also never developed a particularly warm relationship.
Trump in recent days has told confidants that he feels emboldened, confident in his decisions to order new international trade on tariffs and to meet with Kim Jong Un and far less willing to put up with disloyalty around him, according to a person who has spoken to the president in recent days but was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
Tillerson’s departure adds to a period of intense turnover within Trump’s administration that has alarmed those both in and out of the White House. Top economic adviser Gary Cohn announced his resignation last week, not long after communications director Hope Hicks and staff secretary Rob Porter both departed near the start of Trump’s second year in office.
Trump has also faced a cloud of ethics allegations surrounding other members of his Cabinet, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin—the latter of whom is said to be on thin ice with the president.
Pompeo forged a close relationship with Trump as a regular presence in his presidential daily briefing. Current and former White House officials said Pompeo has proven more adept at negotiating the shifting power structures inside the administration and in reading and responding to the wishes of the president. Trump is also said to respect Pompeo’s military background and West Point pedigree.
Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, has already been confirmed by the Senate for his current role at the CIA, making it extremely likely that he will be confirmed for the State Department role.
First the neighborhood supermarket closed. Now it’s the hardware store.
The True Value Hardware store on Janesville’s south side has displayed signs advertising a liquidation sale over the last few weeks. The store, a retail staple on the south side for more than five decades, is closing—likely by May, owner Tami Larson said.
Larson said the True Value store experienced a sharp drop-off in foot traffic after the General Motors plant was shuttered in 2009. In the decade since, the local economy has recovered, but foot traffic to the hardware store at 1516 Center Ave. never rebounded.
A former teacher, Larson said she has owned and operated the True Value since 1996. She has tried four different times in the last 10 years to sell the hardware.
“Since GM shut down, the business just hasn’t come back. Attempts to sell the store have failed. It’s just time,” Larson said. “If it’s not devastating, I think it’s going to be really disappointing to people on the south side.”
Larson talked this week about the store’s closing as she stood at the front checkout counter.
Next to her was a half-empty display of folding pocket knives made by Steel Warrior and Frost Cutlery, pegged inside a velvet-and-wood-framed case.
Customers came and went, filing past the counter and a soda cooler with a sign that read: “Sale: Pop and Water. Final. Cooler not for sale.”
Some customers offered condolences and head shakes as Larson talked about the choice to close the hardware store, which local retailers say operated as a True Value since 1968. Before that, the white Quonset hut-style building housed Blackhawk Hatchery, a chicken hatchery and feed store.
Larson has a wall calendar from 1958 that shows a color picture of the 8,500-square-foot store when it was a hatchery. The store today still has a small-town general store feel, although some aisles are emptying as True Value approaches its closing date.
Larson has been holding a clearing-out sale since mid-February, and she guesses the store likely will close by May.
The store’s demise comes a few months after the Pick ‘n Save on Center Avenue closed in November. Larson said the supermarket’s closure further cut down on traffic to her store, but she’d made up her mind to close around the same time Pick ‘n Save pulled out.
The Grafft family has since bought the Pick ‘n Save property. Officials have said the family plans to gear the property for potential industrial and commercial reuse.
Larson said GM’s departure was the main reason behind the decrease in foot traffic, but online shopping also has put a dent in the store’s business.
For years, Larson’s father ran several True Value stores in northern Illinois. Now, she said, even mom-and-pop hardware stores that have a strong neighborhood following see more shoppers coming in just to pick up online orders—if they come in at all.
Dave Homan, a store employee, stood at the sale counter with Larson. He listened as Larson talked about retail trends, her store’s pending closure and Pick ‘n Save’s pull-out last year.
“Even if it’s more complicated, it feels a little like dominoes falling,” Homan said.
Homan, a Rock County Board member, said when he learned the Pick ‘n Save would close, he called some local grocery store owners to ask if they’d consider opening a store in the former Pick ‘n Save.
As an elected official, he thought he might get some answers for the south side.
“Nobody responded,” Homan said.
Gale Price, Janesville’s economic development director, late Tuesday said he’s aware of the south-side True Value closing.
He said the city is now reviewing a plan for a new hardware store along the West Court Street corridor. Price wasn’t immediately able to give details on the west-side project or whether it would be a franchise hardware store.
Larson said her store’s relationship with True Value is a “cooperative” agreement that involves buying a certain amount of inventory from True Value, rather than a franchise agreement.
Dave Riemer, who owns one of two Ace Hardware stores in Janesville, said he’s saddened by the planned south side True Value closure.
“There’s a certain brotherhood among other smaller hardware stores. We don’t necessarily consider the other store the enemy,” Riemer said. “We’re all battling against much larger companies, the big boxes. It’s always sad to see somebody in hardware—and a store that’s run that long—go away.”
In the months since Larson decided to close, all 10 of her employees have stayed on to help. Most have worked at the True Value for years.
“Nobody left. All the guys opted to stay with me to the end,” she said.
Larson said she plans to put the building on the market within weeks. She said some interested buyers already have looked at the store for potential commercial reuse.
She said it’s ironic that her business was tied, by and large, to the needs of GM workers. Within weeks, the GM property’s new owner, Commercial Development Company, is slated to demolish the plant and has plans to ready the 300-acre site for multi-use, industrial redevelopment.
“I really do believe that in a couple years, if that (GM site) is redeveloped, the south side will have some economic growth return,” Larson said. “For us, it just didn’t happen at the right time.”
Just last week, a particularly chaotic time at the White House, President Donald Trump told reporters that he liked conflict. He said he enjoyed hearing disparate views before making decisions.
But only to a point it seems. In Mike Pompeo, whom Trump nominated Tuesday to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, the president gets someone more attuned to his erratic style and flamboyant personality—and someone who might more readily agree with him than Tillerson did.
That could help Pompeo operate as the nation’s top diplomat since foreign governments are more likely to view him as speaking directly for Trump when it comes to North Korea, Iran, trade disputes and other foreign policy dilemmas. Tillerson had credibility problems because he publicly disagreed with Trump on several major issues.
“I’ve worked with Mike Pompeo now for quite some time,” Trump said Tuesday, minutes after he announced Tillerson’s dismissal in a Twitter post. “Tremendous energy, tremendous intellect, we’re always on the same wavelength. The relationship has been very good and that’s what I need as secretary of state.”
On policy, Pompeo is also likely to hew closer to Trump’s views, although those can often be moving targets. More important, in addition to clearly enjoying Trump’s confidence, he has deeply honed political skills that Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil CEO with no governmental experience, lacked—including an ease at dealing with Congress and the press.
The downside, however, is that Pompeo might be inclined to withhold information that challenges Trump’s preconceived world view.
As director of the CIA since the beginning of the Trump administration 14 months ago, it is Pompeo who most frequently gives Trump his morning intelligence briefing. Trump is notoriously uninterested in details, so Pompeo has shortened the material and reportedly avoids critical issues such as Russian interference in U.S. interests, which might anger the boss.
“A lot of it has to do with personal chemistry, and he obviously has that,” Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican who leads a House Intelligence subcommittee overseeing the CIA, said in an interview. LoBiondo also credited Pompeo with “turning around” the CIA, improving morale and making it more efficient.
But Democratic lawmakers said failure to challenge Trump could be dangerous. Tillerson was often seen as a moderating force who could calm some of Trump’s more rash positions.
“There’s a pattern and practice to dismiss anyone with whom this president has a policy difference, and that appears to be the case with Secretary Tillerson,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said. “I regret to say this, but it appears any number of things can put you on the wrong side of President Trump, who appears to have very little patience with anyone who has a different point of view,”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was even tougher: “Secretary Tillerson’s firing sets a profoundly disturbing precedent in which standing up for our allies against Russian aggression is grounds for a humiliating dismissal.”
Publicly however, Pompeo has not been shy about Russian meddling. He joined other top intelligence community officials in congressional testimony last month to warn that Moscow is mounting another campaign to intervene in upcoming U.S. elections.
A lawyer by profession, Pompeo, 54, represented Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives for six years through 2016, graduated from West Point in 1986 and was an army officer who served in the first Gulf War.
Relations forged in his military and political careers have served him well in Washington, where he is liked by many colleagues. They note he is intelligent and hard-working, even when they disagree with him.
Critics, however, say they are troubled by his failure to condemn torture during his CIA confirmation hearing, and journalists have unearthed old, since-deleted tweets that showed him speaking favorably about hackers who stole Democratic National Committee emails that painted some Democrats in a negative light.
He has opposed same-sex marriage and on Tuesday the Council on American-Islamic Relations accused him of expressing anti-Muslim views and urged the Senate to reject his nomination.
Pompeo is far more hawkish than Tillerson, and some experts said that could complicate already fraught dealings with countries such as North Korea.
However, Daniel Russel, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under the Obama administration, said Pompeo’s recent position as head of the CIA actually might be a boost.
“The job of ‘spy chief’ is one (the North Koreans) fully understand and respect,” Russel said, noting that South Korea’s intelligence chief was one of two envoys sent to Pyongyang to explore talks.
Speculation about Pompeo replacing Tillerson began late last year, though in recent weeks, Tillerson—who once said he wasn’t interested in the job as America’s top diplomat and hadn’t met Trump before interviewing for the post—seemed to have weathered the storm.
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He started to give more interviews to the press and appeared to have figured out how to handle Trump, sometimes delaying going to the president until the options were narrow enough on a particular issue that Trump would be forced to choose the option Tillerson preferred.
But in the end, his oft-repeated lament that he didn’t really understand how Washington worked proved all too true.
Local • 3A, 7A-8A
Board takes stance on guns
The Janesville School Board voted 6-2 Tuesday to pass a resolution regarding school safety and gun control. The resolution will be sent to Janesville’s state and federal legislators and asks for comprehensive legislation that “effectively addresses our nation’s persistent and pervasive gun problem.”
Complaint: Pot deal goes bad
A Janesville man suspected of being a marijuana dealer was assaulted and robbed of his money and marijuana, but he chased the robbers and rammed his car into theirs, according to a criminal complaint filed in Rock County Court.
State • 2A
Election security steps taken
Wisconsin’s plan to bolster election security after its voter database was apparently targeted by Russia in 2016 includes training nearly 2,000 municipal clerks to fend off hackers and a two-week U.S. Department of Homeland Security test to identify vulnerabilities in the state system. The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Tuesday discussed ways to protect ballots that are cast and counted across 1,853 municipalities in 72 counties before the August primary and the November midterm election.
Results from a statewide health study released today show mixed progress for Rock County in its overall health rankings.
The 2018 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps ranked Rock County as 58th out of 72 counties in the state for health outcomes and 65th for health factors.
Rock County gained two spots in the health outcomes category from 2017 to 2018 in Rock County. It measures length and quality of life.
Progress is a good thing, but a two-rank change is not a significant one, said Kitty Jerome, researcher for the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
“I would say that kind of movement of one or two spots out of 72 spots over the course of the year is probably not measuring something really drastically different,” Jerome said. “It’s a step in the right direction, and we always want to see that.”
In health factors, a measure of health behaviors and social factors, the county fell three spots from 62nd to 65th.
Health factors show a picture of the future for a given area, Jerome said.
The category considers health behaviors, clinical care, physical environment, and social and economic factors.
The organization is looking closer at social and economic factors as indicators of health than in the last nine years, Jerome said.
“The social and economic factors contribute 40 percent to the overall measure, which means those are the places we need to dig deeper because they have the greatest influence on our health outcomes,” Jerome said.
Rock County social and economic factors
|Compiled in 2017||Compiled in 2018|
|High School graduation||91%||91%|
|Children in poverty||20%||19%|
|Median household income||$54,100||$51,600|
Rock County should pay attention to its percentage of children in poverty, Jerome said.
“Children in poverty rate is almost 20 percent. That is significant and an area of concern because we know that is a forecast of those children’s future if they’re growing up in poverty,” Jerome said.
Rock County saw a number of changes in health behaviors, most notably a 3 percent decrease in obesity from 37 to 34 percent.
Rock County health behaviors
|Compiled in 2017||Compiled in 2018|
|Percentage of adults considered obese||37%||34%|
|Percentage of motor vehicle deaths related to alcohol||39%||43%|
|Number of sexually transmitted infections per 100,000 people||411.8||455.4|
|Number of teen births per 100,000 people||34||30|
|Percentage of population with adequate access to physical activity||87%||90%|
Clinical care saw the greatest overall improvements in Rock County in the data provided this year. The ratios of primary care physicians, dentists and mental health providers to the population all improved.
Jerome said that in addition to the data, the study provides resources for communities to improve their approaches to public health. Community coaches are also available to meet with community groups to develop programs or policies to close health disparities and improve outcomes.
The information is helpful to anyone interested in improving health in their community, Jerome said. County health departments, parent-teacher organizations, hospitals, health care providers and nonprofits are just some of the groups that can benefit from data and resources.
To view the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, visit county healthrankings.org.