Multiple reports surfaced this week that the White House was looking to ouster Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the next few weeks, with talk of replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
When the press asked about the reports Friday during a meeting with Libya's prime minister at the State Department, the former Exxon Mobil CEO said the claims are “laughable.”
The New York Times said the plan was developed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly ever since Trump’s relationship with Tillerson is said to have “soured.”
Mr. Trump spoke harshly about Mr. Tillerson in front of White House aides as recently as Thursday but did not seem ready yet to replace him, according to one person close to the president.
For all his public combativeness and his “you’re fired” reputation from reality television, Mr. Trump is often reluctant to dismiss advisers. The disclosure of Mr. Kelly’s transition plan may have been a way to nudge him into making a decision, according to that person. It may also have been meant as a not-too-subtle message to Mr. Tillerson that it is time to go.
The ouster of Mr. Tillerson would end a turbulent reign at the State Department for the former Exxon Mobil chief executive, who has been largely marginalized over the last year. Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson have been at odds over a host of major issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, the confrontation with North Korea and a clash between Arab allies. The secretary was reported to have privately called Mr. Trump a “moron” and the president publicly criticized Mr. Tillerson for “wasting his time” with a diplomatic outreach to North Korea. (NYT)
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to questions about the reports Thursday, saying when President Trump loses confidence in someone they will be removed from their post.
“When the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve in the capacity that they're in,” Sanders said.
Trump and Tillerson are “continuing to work together to close out what we’ve seen to be an incredible year,” she added. “I think his future right now is to continue working hard as the secretary of State, continue working with the president, to carry out his agenda.”
All the president has said about the reports so far is that “He's here. Rex is here.”