Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed the media for the first time since his firing Tuesday afternoon at the State Department, calling himself proud of his opportunity to serve the country.
President Donald Trump announced Tillerson's dismissal Tuesday morning, tweeting he would be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo pending his confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Tillerson revealed he received a phone call around noon from Trump about his removal.
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Tillerson said effective at the end of the day, he would delegate all responsibilities to his deputy John Sullivan, and his commission as secretary of state would officially terminate March 31.
Tillerson, his voice sounding shaky at times, said he would work toward an orderly transition to Pompeo, and he thanked his front office and policy teams for their service and urged his interagency colleagues to remember their commitment to defending the Constitution.
"As a State Department, we're bound together by that oath," he said. "We remain steadfast here in Washington and at posts across the world … The world needs selfless leaders like these, ready to work with longstanding allies, new emerging partners and allies who now, many are struggling as democracies, and in some cases are dealing with human tragedy, crisis of natural disasters, literally crawling themselves out of those circumstances."
Tillerson took pride in what he called a strong working relationship between the State Department and Pentagon, saying U.S. leadership starts with diplomacy and saluting the military for their love of country.
Tillerson also addressed some specific foreign policy matters, notably Russia, whose behavior he called "troubling" that could lead to a dangerous isolation.
"All of us, we know, want to leave this place as a better place for the next generation," he said. "I'll now return to private life, private citizen, as a proud American, proud of the opportunity I had to serve my country. God bless all of you. God bless the American people. God bless America."
He took no questions, and he notably did not mention Trump by name or acknowledge him at the conclusion of his eight-minute remarks.
Relations between Trump and Tillerson had reportedly been strained for months, and the two diverged on key issues such as North Korea, moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and the removal of the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement.
The Washington Free Beacon reported a significant reason for his dismissal concerned his rogue attempts to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump wanted to be either fixed or discarded.
Trump told reporters Tuesday that Tillerson was "a very good man" but "we disagreed on things."
"I think Rex will be much happier now," he said.