White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was so angry at the way ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Tuesday firing played in the press that he shouted at the television on Air Force One.
The scene aboard the presidential plane as Donald Trump departed for California was described by Politico.
It capped a chaotic morning that saw the Kelly-led White House and the State Department insisting on contrradictory timelines covering when Tillerson learned he would be replaced as America’s most senior diplomat.
The public and most journalists learned Trump had swung the axe on Twitter. Tillerson’s chief spokesman Steven Goldstein said the secretary was blindsided and had yet to hear from the president personally.
Trump fired Goldstein, too.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly yelled at a TV aboard Air Force One on Tuesday as news coverage of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s firing turned into a sniping match over how and when the axe was swung
President Donald Trump abruptly fired Tillerson in a tweet on Tuesday, but the White House insisted Kelly had called Tillerson four days earlier while he was in Africa
White House aides have rushed to insist that Kelly had called Tillerson last Friday, interrupting a night’s sleep in Africa to let him know the president planned to relieve him of duty.
Some reports describe Kelly only advising Tillerson to watch Trump’s Twitter accout closely in the ensuing days. Others relate a franker conversation.
In that latter version of events, Tillerson asked Kelly to persuade the president to keep his powder dry until he returned to the U.S. on Monday.
The then-secretary cut his Africa trip short by a day, giving no reason at the time.
Goldstein attributed it vaguely to ‘demands in the secretary’s schedule.’
The question of when Tillerson was told to pack his things would be less explosive, if not for Kelly’s dissembling over the dismissal of Rob Porter last month.
Trump reportedly decided to fire Tillerson last Friday but it’s unclear how much information Kelly shared with the soon-to-be-ousted diplomat
Mike Pompeo, who had been CIA director, will lead the State Department; Gina Haspel, a career CIA officer who was deputy director, will become the first woman to run the spy agency
The former Trump staff secretary was forced out after DailyMail.com published accounts from his two ex-wives, who accused him of domestic abuse.
The FBI, it turned out, had alerted the White House several times in 2017 that the allegations were holding up Porter’s security clearance.
Kelly presented a version of events two weeks ago that exonerated himself but was often at odds with the facts.
Tillerson would only say on Tuesday that he had received a lunchtime call from Trump during the president’s cross-country flight, along with a separate call from Kelly – both conversations happening after the tweet heard ’round the diplomatic world.
In an apparent snub, he didn’t thank Trump for his posting – or even mention him by name – during a brief statement Tuesday afternoon.
Tillerson’s frustration at being sacked over social media has a precedent: Former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus found out Kelly had replaced him when Trump tweeted from Air Force One, while it idled on a tarmac and Priebus sat in a car nearby.
Kelly had another problem with a firing timeline two weeks ago when he insisted he’d done nothing wrong by allowing Staff Secretary Rob Porter (right) remain in his highly sensitive role despite warnings from the FBI that he couldn’t pass a security clearance background check; Kelly gave reporters a version of events that was wildly at odds with established facts
The outgoing diplomat told reporters shortly after 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday that he had talked with Trump around lunchtime. The president’s unexpected tweet came before 9:00 a.m.
‘I received a call today from the President of the United States a little after noontime from Air Force One,’ he said.
‘I’ve also spoken to White House Chief of Staff Kelly to ensure we have clarity as to the days ahead.’
The shaken-sounding outgoing cabinet secretary explained that his official ending date will be March 31, and that he aims for an ‘orderly and smooth transition’ for his replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo.