After a 35-year government career that spanned the world under six presidents, and even included a brief stint as acting secretary of state, the State Department’s top career diplomat has announced his retirement.
“I’ve decided that it is time to take a break,” Undersecretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon said in an interview Wednesday in his seventh floor suite of offices with two reporters, including one from CNN. “Thirty-five years is a long time. I’ve fought the good fight.”
Though not unexpected, Shannon’s retirement is sure to come as a blow to the State Department rank-and-file, particularly among the foreign service who has viewed him as a steady presence during the tumultuous first year of the Trump administration.
“He has kind of seen it through every angle,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who made a surprise appearance during the interview to praise Shannon. “Thirty-five years of experience is not something you replace overnight.”
The State Department has faced its lowest morale in years over a talent flight by senior foreign service officers and a perceived insular approach from Tillerson that has been interpreted by longtime employees as evidence they are undervalued.
Shannon stressed the decision to leave was entirely his and was the culmination of months of reflection and discussions with Tillerson.
Though he said Tillerson asked him to stay on in the job, the death of his mother last November and turning 60 last week convinced Shannon it was the right time to take stock of his life and make a change.
“I decided it was an important moment to take a step back and to determine what next I can do in my life,” he said, adding that Tillerson was “very gracious” about respecting his decision to retire.
To underscore the point, Tillerson called Shannon a “senior statesman” and role model for the foreign service, who was also respected throughout the West Wing of the White House.
“He is going to be really missed,” he said of Shannon. “Having said that, I know this is something he has really been thinking about for some time.”
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SOURCE: CNN, Elise Labott