Two top aides to Rex Tillerson will also be leaving the State Department by the end of the month, officials confirmed on Wednesday, in the latest fallout from President Donald Trump’s decision to fire the embattled secretary of state.
The departures of Margaret Peterlin, Tillerson’s chief-of-staff, and Christine Ciccone, his deputy chief-of-staff who was overseeing an initiative to “redesign” the State Department, will please many U.S. diplomats. Many State staffers say the two were widely disliked for severely limiting access to the secretary, sidelining career diplomats and slowing down an already cumbersome decision-making process.
For now, however, another top Tillerson aide, Brian Hook, appears to be staying in place. Hook has also spurred resentment in Foggy Bottom for using the division under his control, the Policy Planning Staff, to effectively take over many decisions and tasks traditionally left to the department’s regional and functional bureaus.
The department announced Wednesday that Hook will lead the U.S. delegation to an international meeting later this week in Vienna on the status of the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has threatened to scuttle.
Peterlin and Ciccone offered their resignations to Tillerson on Tuesday, a State Department official said, confirming an earlier report by CNN. “Secretary Tillerson accepted their resignations with regret and thanked them for their service,” the official said. “Their resignations will be effective March 31 to help Secretary Tillerson with the transition.”
Months of speculation that Trump would fire Tillerson became a reality on Tuesday, when the president sent a tweet bidding Tillerson farewell and announcing he would nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be his new secretary of state. Trump and Tillerson had failed to see eye to eye on a range of topics, including how to deal with the Iran nuclear agreement, which was negotiated by former President Barack Obama’s administration.
Tillerson, who had just returned from a truncated trip to African countries, said later in the day Tuesday that he would immediately delegate his responsibilities to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. But he said that his official last day will be March 31, in part to help ensure an “orderly transition.”
State Department employees are tentatively hopeful that Pompeo will be a better manager of the department, although many are wary of his foreign policy instincts, which are far more hawkish than Tillerson’s. But several Civil and Foreign Service employees said it was critical for Tillerson’s aides to leave along with him – a “clean sweep,” as one put it – to help boost the unusually low morale at State.
Tillerson’s departure leaves many questions, however, including whether Pompeo will keep pursuing the “redesign,” which has come to increasingly revolve around technological and human resources changes. Pompeo’s Senate confirmation hearing is expected to be held in April.