NYT: Rex Tillerson and the unravelling of the State Department
Finally, with only a few days until the inauguration and still no word from Tillerson, one of the senior officials, Victoria Nuland — who once was Hillary Clinton’s State Department spokeswoman but had also been a foreign-policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and was at the time the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs — opted to retire. The others chose to make a go of it. On the Monday after the inauguration, they showed up for work, as usual, at Foggy Bottom.
Two days later, Kennedy was told to retire and given three days to clean out his office. Kennedy had spent 44 years in the Foreign Service and was not particularly political, focusing instead on management and operations; he’d been appointed to his under-secretary position by President George W. Bush. But he had become a central figure in conservative conspiracy theories about Benghazi and Clinton’s private email server. Tillerson aides later joked that Kennedy’s defenestration was like something out of the Soviet Union, dragging a political foe out into the street and shooting him in the head so as to send a message to others.
A few weeks later, Kenney, who as counselor was the State Department’s No. 5 policy official, was told that her services were no longer needed, and she retired. And in the weeks after that, half a dozen other top diplomats were shown the door — fired, forced into retirement or warehoused at a university fellowship. “If you took the entire three-star and four-star corps of the military and said, ‘Leave!’ Congress would go crazy,” one of the recently departed said.
When I recently met with Hook in his seventh-floor office at the State Department, he seemed wary of any implication that, in light of his establishment pedigree and association with Cohen and Edelman, he wasn’t sufficiently pro-Trump. I noted that on his conference table he had a book by Daniel W. Drezner, an international-politics professor at Tufts University who writes regularly for The Washington Post website and is a frequent critic of Trump and of Tillerson. In fact, just that morning, Drezner had published a column calling on Tillerson to resign. I jokingly told Hook that he might want to hide the book. Instead, R.C. Hammond, Tillerson’s communications director, who was sitting in on the interview, immediately seized it.
“This is the guy who has the thing at The Post?” Hammond asked Hook. “Where’s your trash can?” He made as if he was going to throw the book across Hook’s office. Hook raised his hand to block Hammond.
“No!” Hook said. “It’s a book on policy planning! This was written before Rex Tillerson was even considered.”
“Trash can,” Hammond reiterated. Hook kept his hand up. The fifth of Bombay gin and the liter bottle of tonic water on his desk suddenly made more sense.
But even if Tillerson leaves, the fear among many in the State Department is that the hangover from his tenure will be long-lasting. The Foreign Service officer recalls a recent meeting of acting assistant secretaries, where the most pressing matters discussed were the backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests and the number of typographical errors in memos to the secretary’s office. “The world is going to hell in a handbasket,” the Foreign Service officer fumed, “and the greatest minds in our diplomatic service are talking about FOIA requests and [expletive] typos.”