Is Rex Tillerson Leaving or Being Pushed Out?

I keep hearing reports that Donald Trump doesn’t actually like to fire people, and maybe he just prefers to make them so miserable that they’ll quit on their own. That certainly seems to be the route he chose with his press secretary Sean Spicer and the one he’s pursuing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And it may be how he’s dealing with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, too.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is growing increasingly frustrated with the Trump administration and could quit before the year is through, according to reports.

Two sources familiar with Tillerson’s conversations with friends told CNN over the weekend that he has grown so frustrated with President Donald Trump and his administration that there may soon be a “Rexit.”

The change in Tillerson’s tone followed a stressful week for the secretary of state. He was found to have violated U.S. sanctions against Russia while working as CEO of Exxon Mobil. Also, Trump publicly assailed one of Tillerson’s fellow Cabinet members, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, saying he regretted hiring him.

Tillerson, the sources said, viewed Trump’s comments as unprofessional.

Early Monday, Trump again attacked Sessions on Twitter, calling him “beleaguered” and wondering aloud why he wasn’t investigating Trump’s campaign rival Hillary Clinton.

Before last week, Tillerson had strongly maintained he would see through his task of reorganizing the entire State Department after Trump’s March budget proposal laid out plans to cut $10 billion from its roughly $47 billion in funding. But that resolve seems to have dimmed.

Of course, it’s possible that Trump isn’t intentionally making people want to quit, although that seems especially unlikely in the case of Sessions. In Tillerson’s case, it could just be a clash of personalities and management styles. Yet, it’s notable that the Treasury Department just singled out Tillerson for violating the sanctions against Russia while he was serving as the CEO of ExxonMobil. I mean, you don’t see stuff like this everyday:

Two of President Trump’s most senior cabinet members became embroiled Thursday in an unusual legal battle over whether ExxonMobil under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s leadership violated U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Treasury officials fined ExxonMobil $2 million Thursday morning for signing eight business agreements in 2014 with Igor Sechin, the chief executive of Rosneft, an energy giant partially owned by the Russian government. The business agreements came less than a month after the United States banned companies from doing business with him.

Hours after the fine was announced, Exxon filed a legal complaint against the Treasury Department — naming Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as the lead defendant — while calling the actions “unlawful” and “fundamentally unfair.”

You might remember Igor Sechin as the man that Carter Page allegedly met with in Moscow. I wrote about that saga back in January in a piece called: Mnuchin Needs to Explain the 19.5% Sale of Rosneft. Here’s a refresher on what was said about the Rosneft deal in the Steele Dossier.

Why did Mnuchin go after Tillerson? Did he get a sign off on his attack from Trump? Did he freelance? Was he sending a message?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it’s all screwed up beyond recognition.

What’s clear is that Tillerson is genuinely unhappy, and he’s been unhappy since long before Sessions became Trump’s punching boy:

Last month, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was the one calling Tillerson “unprofessional.” The secretary of state reportedly blew up at top Trump administration staffers during a meeting in White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’s office.

Four people familiar with the details of the meeting described the heated exchange to Politico. During his tirade, Tillerson quarreled with the director of presidential personnel, Johnny DeStefano, and made clear he didn’t want the White House to “have any role in staffing.”

Tillerson has been frustrated after Trump and the White House rejected a number of his hiring decisions.

It sounds like Tillerson has one foot out the door, but it’s hard to say for sure if he’s leaving voluntarily or being pushed out.

Losing his press secretary, Attorney General and Secretary of State in rapid succession would make for an interesting communications challenge. I wonder if Trump’s new communications director Anthony Scaramucci has anything better than beauty tips to offer to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who will supposedly be back on camera in her new role as Spicer’s permanent replacement.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.