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Trump ousts Rex Tillerson in favor of CIA Director Pompeo

After months of media reports about a fractured relationship between President Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump tweeted today that CIA Director Mike Pompeo will replace Tillerson as head of the State Department. The State Department issued a statement that Tillerson had not spoken to Trump and was "unaware of the reason" for his dismissal.

The timing: Trump's announcement comes just hours after Tillerson broke with the White House to blame Russia for the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom. But the Washington Post, which first broke the news, reported that Trump made his decision last week: "Trump last Friday asked Tillerson to step aside, and the embattled top diplomat cut short his trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington."

Yes, but: Senior state department officials are telling a different story: that Tillerson found out he was fired from Trump's tweet. And WashPost's Ashley Parker, who authored the original story, said it was "highly possible" that Tillerson "officially" learned of his firing via the tweet.

Trump also said that he will nominate CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to head the spy agency. If confirmed, she would become the first woman to lead the CIA.

The backdrop: This has been many months in the making. Axios' Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan first reported that Pompeo was in the running to replace Tillerson in October. They noted that Pompeo personally delivers the President's Daily Brief — making him one of the few people Trump spends a great deal of time with on a daily basis — and that the president is quite comfortable with Pompeo, asking his advice on topics from immigration to the inner workings of Congress.

From State Department Under Secretary Steve Goldstein...

"The Secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security. He will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and the foreign ministries he has worked with throughout the world.
The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling.
We wish Secretary Designate Pompeo well."

From Trump's statement...

"As Director of the CIA, Mike has earned the praise of members in both parties by strengthening our intelligence gathering, modernizing our defensive and offensive capabilities, and building close ties with our friends and allies in the international intelligence community. I have gotten to know Mike very well over the past 14 months, and I am confident he is the right person for the job at this critical juncture. He will continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
"Finally, I want to thank Rex Tillerson for his service. A great deal has been accomplished over the last fourteen months, and I wish him and his family well."

From Pompeo's statement...

"I am deeply grateful to President Trump for permitting me to serve as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and for this opportunity to serve as Secretary of State. His leadership has made America safer and I look forward to representing him and the American people to the rest of the world to further America’s prosperity."

From Haspel's statement...

"After thirty years as an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, it has been my honor to serve as its Deputy Director alongside Mike Pompeo for the past year. I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency."

Go deeper: The high-profile Trump White House departures.

Jonathan Swan 5 hours ago
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Bolton bombshell: the clashes to come

John Bolton
John Bolton speaks at CPAC in 2016. Photo: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sources close to President Trump say he feels John Bolton, hurriedly named last night to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, will finally deliver the foreign policy the president wants — particularly on Iran and North Korea.

Why it matters: We can’t overstate how dramatic a change it is for Trump to replace H.R. McMaster with Bolton, who was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush.

Erica Pandey 7 hours ago
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How China became a global power of espionage

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

As China’s influence spreads to every corner of the globe under President Xi Jinping, so do its spies.

Why it matters: China has the money and the ambition to build a vast foreign intelligence network, including inside the United States. Meanwhile, American intelligence-gathering on China is falling short, Chris Johnson, a former senior China analyst for the CIA who's now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells Axios: "We have to at least live up to [China's] expectations. And we aren't doing that."