About 13 hours before he was fired as secretary of state, Rex Tillerson issued perhaps his toughest comments to date on Russia. He said that a nerve agent used on a former Russian spy in Britain last week “clearly came from Russia.” He also called Russia “an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.”
It was perhaps his last major act as secretary of state. But was it the reason for his dismissal — or even a last straw?
The White House is insisting the decision to fire Tillerson had been made before his comments Monday evening — that he was informed of the decision in the early-morning hours Saturday, before returning from a trip to Africa. But a statement from a top State Department spokesman Tuesday indicated Tillerson had no advance warning of his termination beyond a heads-up that Trump would tweet something. (The spokesman, Steve Goldstein, has been fired for contradicting the White House.)
Omg. A State Dept official says Tillerson learned he was fired from Trump's tweet, per @CNN
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) March 13, 2018
Democrats quickly issued statements Tuesday alleging that Tillerson was fired for being too tough on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“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,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Added Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.): “Just hours ago, Rex Tillerson became the lone Trump administration cabinet official to stand with the United Kingdom in condemning Russia’s nerve agent attack on English soil. Donald Trump’s reaction to Tillerson’s support of a close American ally facing threats from Russia was to fire him.”
Even if Tillerson’s firing wasn’t a direct result of his comments Monday, they could be symptomatic of the clear disconnect between him and the White House on the broader issue.
Tillerson’s comments about Russia have not been echoed by the White House — even as a key U.S. ally, Britain, has concluded it was “highly likely” Russia was at least complicit in the attack. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered noncommittal remarks Monday about Russia’s alleged role in the nerve-agent attack. Trump spoke Tuesday with British Prime Minister Theresa May, but according to a White House readout he said only that Russia “must provide unambiguous answers” about the matter.
Read full report at Washington Post.