President Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday morning and said he will replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who will be supposedly succeeded at the agency by the deputy director Gina Haspel, the first woman to hold the position.
The decision comes after just 14 months of Tillerson’s tenure, though rumors that policy disagreements between the former Exxon CEO and the president could lead to his termination have circulated since November. This is the latest in a series of high profile departures from the administration, which has the highest turnover rate of any White House in the last 40 years.
The incoming Secretary of State is less wealthy than his predecessor and has been successful in maintaining the president’s trust thus far. Here’s what you need to know about America’s new top diplomat.
Pompeo’s background and career
Pompeo is a former Army tank officer. He graduated first in his class from West Point.
He attended law school at Harvard and worked in Washington, D.C. practicing law before founding an aerospace company called Thayer Aerospace. He then worked as the president of Sentry International, an oilfield equipment manufacturing, distribution, and service company.
In 2010, Pompeo unseated the Democratic nominee and became Kansas’s Fourth District Representative with the help of the Tea Party and the Koch brothers.
He served three terms in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017. As a representative, he sat on the House Intelligence Committee and played an aggressive role in questioning former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of the House Select Benghazi Committee.
He was particularly outspoken in condemning Clinton over the 2012 Benghazi attacks and also pushed emails published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign to attack Clinton.
These activities raised concerns, especially among Democrats, about his appointment to head the CIA, as he was known as fiercely partisan during his time in Congress.
Pompeo’s track record at the CIA and views on foreign policy
President Trump nominated Pompeo to lead the agency in January 2017. The appointment was seen as a delicate situation for Pompeo as he took over in the midst of discord between the incoming administration and the intelligence community.
Seen as an ardent ally of the president, there was some concern within the agency that Pompeo ordered the Counterintelligence Mission Center, the unit closely tied to the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, to report to him directly, the Washington Post reported in August.
While the Russia investigation loomed as a possible disagreement, Pompeo’s views on issues like torture align with the president, who has said that “torture works.”
Pompeo has said that waterboarding does not constitute torture and has pushed for more leeway for domestic surveillance programs.
As the top U.S. diplomat, his view on the Iran nuclear deal will match up with the president’s more closely than his predecessor’s. He is expected to take a harder line on Iran and North Korea. Administration officials said that the decision to fire Tillerson now was motivated in part by installing Pompeo ahead of the proposed meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and President Trump.
“Rest assured, when the president enters that room with Kim Jong Un, if Kim Jong Un lives up to the four commitments that he has made, those four major concessions, the president will be fully prepared for his conversation with Kim Jong Un,” Pompeo told CBS.
Pompeo is one of few outsiders who has moved into Trump’s inner circle
Despite concern about their differing public stances on the Russia investigation when Pompeo was appointed, he has become close with the president.
The CIA director gives daily briefings to Trump, often bringing in experts from the agency to explain specific topics.
He was questioned by Robert Mueller’s special counsel in January, likely about his knowledge of Trump’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey.
There was speculation that the president may have pressured Pompeo to suppress any investigation against former national security adviser Michael Flynn at the same time Comey says he was asked by Trump to end the FBI inquiry.
Pompeo has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of Russian election interference in public appearances as CIA director, contradicting the reported findings of the agency and others in the intelligence community.
He spends more time in the White House than other recent CIA directors and is perceived as more willing to take a role in policy battles, going so far as to defend the president in the wake of his comments on Charlottesville and make calls to news organizations to dispute a New York Times article about connections between Russians and individuals involved in the Trump campaign.
Gina Haspel is said to replace Pompeo as CIA director
Pompeo will be replaced, after a Senate confirmation, by deputy director Gina Haspel at the CIA. Haspel will be the first woman to assume the top role at the agency, where she has worked since 1985.
She spent much of her career at the CIA undercover. According to the New York Times, Haspel oversaw the torture of detainees in 2002 and later destroyed interview tapes. Her involvement in the torture of these suspects, who were waterboarded repeatedly and slammed into walls, led Senator Dianne Feinstein to block Haspel’s appointment to the CIA’s top clandestine service role in 2013.
She is widely respected within the agency and has received the George H. W. Bush Award for excellence in counterterrorism, the Donovan Award, the Intelligence Medal of Merit, and the Presidential Rank Award, the highest award in the federal civil service.
Pompeo’s net worth
In a cabinet full of millionaires and billionaires, Pompeo is one of the least wealthy of Trump’s appointees, according to McClatchy.
While former Exxon CEO Tillerson assumed the Secretary of State role with a retirement package from the oil industry worth $180 million, Pompeo will take over with a $185,000 salary from the CIA director position.
Before that, he was making $174,000 as a member of Congress and did not report any other compensation exceeding $5,000, according to his financial disclosures.
According to a 2014 ranking from the Center for Responsive Politics, Pompeo’s total assets were worth about $345,000. This ranked him as number 311 out of 435 House members at the time in terms of personal wealth and third out of the four representatives from Kansas.