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Photos, left to right: Rex Tillerson, Mike Pompeo, and Gina Haspel

By Miriam Raftery

March 13, 2018 (Washington D.C.) – President Donald Trump has fired Secretary of State Ralph Tillerson, naming Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement and Gina Haspel, Deputy CIA Director, to replace Pompeo.  Both nominees have controversial backgrounds and will require Senate confirmation.

Tillerson’s ouster comes less than 48 hours after Tillerson blamed Russia for the poisoning of a Russian spy in Britain with a powerful neurotoxin. 

“There is never a justification for this type of attack, the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation, and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior,” Tillerson stated, adding, “Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.”

Tillerson, formerly the top executive at Exxon-Mobile, had previously called Trump a “moron,” drawing the President’s ire.  Tillerson took issue with several of Trump’s policies, notably regarding Iran. He also left many positions in the State Department unfilled.

His potential replacement, however, is not without controversy.  Pompeo, an Army veteran, attorney with a Harvard Law School degree and Tea Party-backed Congressman from Kansas before his rapid ascension to head up the CIA, has advocated for increased surveillance of U.S. citizens and opposed closure of secret prisons and the Guantanamo detention facility. He is also a climate change denier.

However Republican Senator Lindsey Graham praised Pompeo’s nomination, noting the CIA director’s loyalty to Trump, the Washington Post reports.  “One of the most important jobs for the secretary of state is to make clear to the world the president’s policies and priorities,” Graham stated, adding, “No one has a stronger relationship with President Trump than Mike Pompeo.”

Haspel is an even more controversial choice to replace Pompeo as CIA director.  She ran a “black site” prison in Thailand for the CIA that reportedly conducted torture of prisoners including waterboarding. She later carried out orders to destroy videos of the waterboarding and torture that also included slamming a prisoner’s head repeatedly against a wall, confining a prisoner in a box and sleep deprivation, Reuters and the Washington Post report.

Haspel’s actions have drawn criticism not only from Democrats, but also from Republican Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war. “The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history,” said Republican Senator John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.”

If confirmed, Haspel would be the first woman to head up the CIA.

Senate confirmation of a new Secretary of State and CIA director could take months, leaving the U.S. with no Secretary of State at a time of turmoil in Iraq, tensions with Iran and a potential meeting with President Trump and North Korea’s leader in the works.

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