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Tillerson is one of a wave of departures. Why is Trump cleaning house?

What led President Trump to shake up his national security team and dismiss Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? Judy Woodruff gets insights into the firing from Robert Costa of the Washington Post and Josh Lederman of the Associated Press.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for insights now into what led the president to shake up his national security team, we are joined by Robert Costa, host of PBS's Washington Week and national political reporter for The Washington Post, and Josh Lederman, who covers the State Department for the Associated Press.

    Robert, to you first.

    We have been hearing for months that Rex Tillerson either might be forced out or might resign on his own. What led to this right now?

  • Robert Costa:

    There wasn't an event that led directly to this decision, Judy. It was a long-simmering frustration by the president with his secretary of state.

    They saw the world in different ways. And the president really wanted to assert himself more on foreign policy. He didn't like delegating decisions to Tillerson, a longtime executive at ExxonMobil. He wanted to move in a new direction where foreign policy was really created inside of the White House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Josh Lederman, what would you add to that?

  • Josh Lederman:

    I think that, over time, the fact that Tillerson and Trump were not going to be a good pair, a good partnership became more and more apparent, until it was just impossible to overlook.

    And it got to the point where you had foreign governments that weren't even really bothering to deal with Tillerson, to interact with him, to try to make policy with him because they didn't see him as actually speaking for the Trump administration.

    They saw the White House, the president himself, perhaps his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. And once you lose your ability to actually do your job in an effective way, it's time for a change. And that's really what we saw today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Josh Lederman, just quickly, was this essentially doomed from the beginning?

  • Josh Lederman:

    Well, it was doomed from rather soon from the beginning, when it became clear they had very different styles, that Trump had different positions on the Iran deal, on climate change and the Paris agreement, and other key national security priorities than his secretary of state.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Robert Costa, why was this done in such a humiliating manner, letting the secretary of state know just a few hours after he landed back after a long trip in Africa, doing it in a tweet?

  • Robert Costa:

    It's so typical of President Trump to manage his Cabinet in this way. It's how he managed associates throughout his business career.

    People inside of the White House today tell me that he can be cruel, and he decided to be somewhat cruel in how he handled Tillerson, because he was angry, angry that Tillerson often seemed to be out on a limb politically and diplomatically from the White House.

    And he was urged by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to try do it in person or at least wait until Tillerson came back to the ground here in the U.S. The president was actually tempted, officials told me, to do it via tweet, but he generally resisted doing that — but a messy departure for the secretary of state.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I was asking, Robert, because the president's known for the television show "The Apprentice," where he would fire people, but he did it to their face.

  • Robert Costa:

    This reality television style of governing is actually not that far from the truth.

    In fact, one White House official told me today, this is really season two of the Trump presidency that started. The president wants to move back to his raw political instincts, take more control over the government, have allies surround him in the Cabinet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Josh Lederman, let's turn to the man the president has chosen to replace Rex Tillerson, Mike Pompeo, now at the CIA.

    What is your read on him? What is expected of him changing from one agency to the other?

  • Josh Lederman:

    What's expected is that he's going to be a more consistent ally of the president and a more consistent backer of the president's own instincts.

    Now, on the Iran deal, for instance, where there is a major decision ahead of the president, it's likely that Pompeo will find himself more on the same page. He's been an ardent critic of that deal, pushing the president to back away from that deal, whereas Tillerson had really wanted to stay in that deal.

    But we know that Pompeo, like the president, is a more brash-talking, in-your-face kind of guy. He was in Congress before, so there's some familiarity there with folks who would be happy to confirm him.

    And he's also someone that the president seems to enjoy being around and likes his company. We know that Pompeo, as CIA director, often delivered the president's daily briefs in person, spent a lot of time in the White House, more than many past CIA directors.

    And it seemed to indicate a level of comfort that the president has surrounding himself with Pompeo and with his advice on key issues.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Robert, you have done a fair amount of reporting on Pompeo, on his background serving in Congress, what, for six years?

  • Robert Costa:

    That's correct. What a political ascent for this former Kansas congressman and ally of the Koch brothers, the billionaire conservative family, long respected in hawkish Republican circles.

    But he become someone who ingratiated himself with President Trump. And he's really developed this rapport with the president, because he gives the PDB. They call it the president daily brief. That's the top-secret briefing every day. And he gives it in person to the president.

    Because of that, they have developed this personality connection that really has led to this announcement that he will be the next secretary of state, if confirmed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Robert, I have to ask you. This departure of Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, comes on the heels of a number of other high-profile departures, just a few days ago, the president's chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, out.

    That followed by a few days the departure of his communications director, Hope Hicks, Roger Porter, who was — or, I should say, Robert Porter, who was the president's staff secretary with scandal around that departure. What is this sense right now inside the White House?

  • Robert Costa:

    Well, Judy, when I told you it was season two was the phrase inside of the West Wing, I wasn't joking. That's what officials say.

    In fact, they say that the Tillerson departure could be one of several departures this week, not only Tillerson's aide at the State Department, but you have the president tonight, as he's in California, thinking about Secretary Shulkin at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    He's been struggling with different public relations crises in recent weeks. The president is looking at perhaps making some changes there. And you see people inside of the White House on edge about their own positions.

    The president is interviewing people to take over Gary Cohn's job. A lot of tumult, a lot of change on the horizon.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Josh Lederman, as someone who covers the State Department and certainly keeps his eye on the White House, how does all this look to people in the administration from the other agencies, from the State Department, from the CIA, and so on?

  • Josh Lederman:

    There's an interesting dynamic right now at the State Department, where they're breathing a sigh of relief, broadly, because many of the 75,000 people who work for the State Department were not big fans of Tillerson, because he came in wanting to restructure the agency, wanting its budget cut, wanting much fewer people working there, and keeping himself very isolated from the diplomatic corps.

    So, on the one hand, they're relieved that that era is over, but there is a lot of trepidation about whether Pompeo will be better on that front or whether he will be equally or even more hostile towards traditional American diplomacy, soft power, and the things that State Department and other agencies that it work with tends to work on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Robert Costa, is there a read on that, a clear read on what Pompeo will represent from the White House?

  • Robert Costa:

    Pompeo's going to represent President Trump's point of view, plain and simple.

    Tillerson came in as this longtime executive who had his own view of the world, thought he could help manage that portfolio, and then translate it to the president and communicate his views.

    What the president wants is a blunt enforcer for the Trumpian view of the world. That's what he's going to get in Mike Pompeo.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, gentlemen, on this day of a whole lot of news, Robert Costa with The Washington Post, Josh Lederman with the AP, we thank you both.

  • Robert Costa:

    Thank you.

  • Josh Lederman:

    Thanks a lot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will take a deeper look at the end of the Tillerson era, and its implications, after the news summary.

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