Donald Trump was cruel when he fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The president tweeted Tillerson’s pink slip while he was thousands of miles away in Africa. Yet, what the commander-in-chief did next was more than chilling.
Tillerson had been on a goodwill tour trying to clean up 45’s mess. Trump referred to African nations as “sh*thole” countries. The secretary was sound asleep when he got a phone call from Chief of Staff John Kelly warning him to come home. The secretary was also sick.
Trump’s secretary flew back to the states, and within three hours he realized he had, indeed, been fired in the most cowardly manner. Tillerson’s only request of Trump had been that any firing be done face-to-face. American diplomats spread across the world, who reported to the secretary, Washington insiders, and the media were stunned.
Worse, those diplomats soon discovered that Trump had also canned Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein. The undersecretary had released a statement about the method the president used to fire Tillerson. Quizzically, that differed from Trump’s version.
A number of diplomats talked to CNN about their surprise and distress, when the Trump administration demanded they neither post nor retweet Goldstein’s statement.
Goldstein released that statement to the media then retweeted Tillerson’s comments upon learning he had been fired. It read:
‘The secretary did not speak to the President this morning 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 and not to be regretted.’
The undersecretary explained to the diplomats that the secretary had, indeed, been fired via a Trump tweet. Chief of Staff John Kelly had called Tillerson three days earlier with foreboding news, that his job was in jeopardy.
Unfortunately, Goldstein’s message conflicted with the White House’s version. As soon as the undersecretary’s statement reached the White House, he was fired, too.
According to a number of State Department diplomats, receiving instructions to avoid commenting was “highly unusual.” CNN reported:
‘It was highly unusual to receive guidance from home to avoid retweeting or repeating the official words of their own undersecretary. The State Department declined to comment on the record, but a senior State official who shared the guidance email with CNN said it instructed them to: “Freeze further amplification of content that features (Secretary Tillerson) until Tillerson himself delivered remarks later in the day.”‘
CNN saw a copy of the full guidance. It commanded the diplomats to “freeze further amplification of content or messaging:”
‘Asked all Department bureaus and posts to freeze further amplification of content or messaging which features S (Tillerson) — this includes both the native posting and/or retweeting/sharing of statements, photos, media notes, videos, or other digital content.’
A senior State Department official told CNN it came from a “deputy assistant secretary:”
‘(The message was) a request from a deputy assistant secretary to hold off, until the secretary had done his briefing.’
Tillerson’s former staff members were deeply offended by how Trump fired the man who used to head the largest corporation in the world, ExxonMobile. The president showed their boss disrespect, humiliation, and out-and-out cruelty in how he fired their boss.
The diplomats had already been retweeting and quoting Goldstein’s words. The State Department had not disputed his statement.
In fact, someone had already started translating Goldstein’s message in six language on an internal State Department website. Then, embassies could post it. However, once they received the muzzle notice, they quit after translating it into only two languages.
One told CNN:
‘We think it’s bizarre, but it is what it is.’
A second foreign service officer told CNN,
‘It was strange. Usually we would post that and retweet it.’
A senior State Department official in Washington agreed with the diplomats:
‘That’s not something you do in this country. … The statement came from an undersecretary, and it was clear those were Tillerson’s words. And he’s still secretary of state.’
Then, a former diplomat said:
‘Not a single embassy retweeted Goldstein’s message — which is unheard of, and consistent with them being told to avoid that particular message. But why?’
Featured Image via Getty Images/Alex Wong.