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Rex Tillerson's Firing As Secretary Of State Continues To Reverberate


Yesterday's firing of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state continues to reverberate. Tillerson will be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo if the Senate confirms him. Shortly after firing Tillerson on Twitter, President Trump made it clear he and his secretary of state have disagreed on a lot of issues, including North Korea and the Iran nuclear deal. Senator Angus King, who sits on the Senate intelligence committee, got to know a lot about Mike Pompeo during his confirmation hearing to take over at the agency. Senator King joins me now in our studios. He is an independent from the state of Maine. Senator, thanks so much for being back on the show.

ANGUS KING: Always a pleasure, Rachel.

MARTIN: You supported Rex Tillerson's nomination as secretary of state, saying at the time that he would serve as what you described as a critical moderating influence. What do you make of his firing?

KING: Well, I think it's disturbing on a number of levels. I think the first thing that struck me was that the president said we disagreed - he disagreed with me on Iran. But what bothered me is a leader shouldn't be dismissing people because they disagree. In fact, a leader should be encouraging disagreement. And that's how you get to good policy.

MARTIN: So what happens if that moderating force, if that voice of dissent is missing at the State Department?

KING: Well, I think it's - as I say, I think it's very worrisome because you've got a president who's prone to making quick, snap intuitive decisions. And you want people to say, wait a minute, have we thought through this? And when you take those people away, it simply encourages further snap, intuitive and sometimes probably not very good decisions.

MARTIN: But you're familiar with Mike Pompeo. He served in Congress and has been the director of the CIA for the past year. Is he going to be just a yes man at the State Department?

KING: Well, I think the president said something sort of revealing. He said, Mike and I are more on the same wavelength. And I think that does indicate that there's more agreement there. Mike Pompeo is - this is a very different job. In fact, I was very hard leaning on him about the job of the CIA director is not policy. It's mechanics. It's intelligence. It's facts. And so I was always pushing him to not be a policy guy.

Now he's going into the ultimate policy position, the secretary of state. And I do have some concerns because he's tended to be very aggressive about the use of military force in the past. I think - it's a whole different analysis, in my view. I plan to go to the Foreign Relations Committee hearing just to listen to him. I think we're going to have to think hard about this - about Mike's nomination.

MARTIN: I want to ask you about Gina Haspel. She's been the No. 2 at the CIA. If and when Mike Pompeo goes to State, she will replace him. If she is confirmed to lead the CIA, she would be the first woman to do so. But there are some parts of her background that have been concerning to Democrats in particular, especially her oversight of a secret prison in Thailand, where terrorism suspects were allegedly tortured. What do you want to know from her during her confirmation hearing?

KING: Well, I wouldn't start with Democrats. The very first person to issue a statement about her was John McCain raising just that issue, a very, very strong statement that was issued yesterday almost immediately after the nomination. This is a tough one. She's very well-respected in the intelligence community. Jim Clapper yesterday gave her a very strong endorsement. I'm sure - and she's been endorsed by people that have worked with her for 30 years in the CIA.

I think there's something to be said for a leader over there who knows the agency, has the confidence of the people. On the other hand, those incidents back in the early 2000s were really disturbing, as John McCain said, one of the darkest hours in the recent history of this country. Plus, I need to know her involvement. There was a moment where the general counsel of the CIA said, do not destroy the tapes of the interrogation - and those tapes were destroyed. And the question is, what was her part in that decision?

So she's going to have to satisfy, I think, a lot of members of the committee about, No. 1, what her involvement was and No. 2, her commitment to current law, which is no more torture. The Army Field Manual is the guide, and that is in the statute as a result of a law we passed several years ago.

MARTIN: Senator Angus King, an independent from the state of Maine. He sits on the Senate intelligence committee. Thanks so much for being with us.

KING: Anytime, Rachel. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.