Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he is delegating his responsibilities at the end of the workday Tuesday to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.
Speaking to reporters hours after being unceremoniously fired by President Donald Trump in a tweet, Tillerson says he will be formally stepping down from his post at the end of the month.
Tillerson is calling for an orderly transition to Mike Pompeo, the CIA director whom Trump has designated as Tillerson's successor pending confirmation by the Senate. He encouraged State Department employees to remain focused on their jobs.
Trump announced the change in a tweet early Tuesday just four hours after Tillerson returned to Washington from a trip to Africa. Word of Trump's dissatisfaction with Tillerson and plans to replace him had circulated for months, even as Tillerson insisted he didn't plan to leave.
Trump said that the CIA's deputy director, Gina Haspel, would take over for Pompeo at the intelligence agency. If confirmed, Haspel would be the CIA's first female director.
Trump said that he made the decision to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "by myself."
Rumors about friction between Trump and Tillerson were circulating last year. In October, NBC news reported that Tillerson called the president a "moron," something Tillerson never actually denied. Tillerson continued to insist his relationship with the president was solid and brushed off rumors of strain between them.
Two officials familiar with the situation said that Tillerson had been fired by Trump on Friday, while in Africa. There were no obvious indications as Tillerson flew home early Tuesday from Nigeria that his departure was imminent, nor that it was his last trip abroad as top diplomat.
But Tillerson had cut short his trip by one night, telling reporters he had been sick in Africa and had barely slept two nights in a row because of urgent, middle-of-the-night matters, including the North Korea announcement.
Dismissing Tillerson had been discussed at multiple levels for a long time, said a senior White House official, adding that the North Korea overture and invitation brought more urgency to the decision. Two officials said Trump wanted to have a new team in place ahead of an upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as well as trade talks. The officials weren't authorized to speak publicly and demanded anonymity.
The president said Tillerson will be "much happier now," and he appreciates his service. Trump said he and Tillerson had been "talking about this for a long time," and they had disagreed on issues like the Iran deal.
However, a top State Department official says President Donald Trump never explained to Tillerson the reason why he was fired.
The undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Steve Goldstein, says Tillerson "had every intention of staying" in the job because he felt he was making critical progress in national security.
Two White House officials said Tillerson was told he was out on Friday. The sources weren't authorized to speak publicly and demanded anonymity.
But Goldstein says Tillerson "did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason."
Trump's announcement came the day after the Republican-controlled House Intelligence committee announced it found no collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia.
Tillerson was slated to retire from Exxon in March 2017 at age 65 under the company's mandatory retirement policy. Paid $27.3 million last year, Tillerson has accumulated roughly $160 million in Exxon stock along with $149 million of unvested stock options, according a proxy statement the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.