White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was reportedly so furious over the way the press was covering Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's Tuesday firing that he shouted at the television on Air Force One as the President and his staff took off for California, according to Politico.
Kelly's Tuesday was already off to a chaotic start over contradictory timelines involving Tillerson's ouster. While the White House said Tillerson was notified last Friday in a phone call which interrupted his sleep on a trip to Africa, Tillerson's chief spokesman Steven Goldstein said that the Secretary of State was blindsided and had yet to hear from the President personally. Goldstein was also fired after releasing the contradictory statement.
Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
Tillerson told reporters on Monday evening that the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in a Salisbury, UK park "clearly came from Russia," and "certainly will trigger a response."
At that point, The White House had not yet pointed the finger at Russia - leading some (especially the "collusion" crowd) to speculate that Tillerson was fired for blaming the Kremlin. The White House has since agreed with the British government's assessment that Russia was responsible for the poisoning, backing the UK's decision to expel Russian diplomats.
“The United States shares the United Kingdom’s assessment that Russia is responsible for the reckless nerve agent attack on a British citizen and his daughter, and we support the United Kingdom’s decision to expel Russian diplomats as a just response,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in the statement.
“This latest action by Russia fits into a pattern of behavior in which Russia disregards the international rules-based order, undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and attempts to subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions and processes. The United States is working together with our allies and partners to ensure that this kind of abhorrent attack does not happen again."
Accounts of the Friday phone call to Tillerson have varied. While some reports describe Kelly only telling Tillerson to watch Trump's twitter account over the next few days, others have said it was a much more direct conversation in which the Secretary of State was given a heads up. In that version, Tillerson implored Kelly to hold off on any decisions until he returned to the U.S. on Monday.
Tillerson, meanwhile, would only say that he received a "lunchtime call" from Trump during the President's flight to California, and a separate call from Kelly - both after Trump's tweet.
"I received a call today from the President of the United States a little after noontime from Air Force One," he said, adding "I've also spoken to White House Chief of Staff Kelly to ensure we have clarity as to the days ahead."
Of note, former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus found out about his own ouster (and replacement by Kelly) after the President tweeted from Air Force One as it idled on a tarmac as Priebus sat in a nearby car.
Tillerson cut his Africa trip short by a day with no explanation, which his (now fired) chief spokesman said was due to "demands in the secretary's schedule."
Rob Porter 2.0
Kelly's consternation over the press coverage comes on the heels of former Trump staff secretary Rob Porter's ouster in February after the Daily Mail published accounts from his two ex-wives accusing him of domestic abuse. Kelly took fire for not getting rid of Porter earler, after it emerged that the FBI had alerted the White House several times in 2017 that the allegations were holding up Porter's security clearance.
When the allegations against Porter began to fly, Kelly put out a statement calling Porter a "man of true integrity and honor," and "a trusted professional."
Porter's first wife, Colbie Holderness, then came forward with graphic details of her abuse - telling the Daily Mail that Porter punched her in the face and choked her. The article included a photo of her with a black eye. Porter told the daily mail that the allegations were "slanderous and simply false."