The FINANCIAL — U.S. media are reporting that the White House has developed a plan to force out Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replace him with Mike Pompeo, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Citing a senior administration official, The New York Times on November 30 first reported that the administration of President Donald Trump could make the announcement “within weeks.”
The Associated Press, Reuters, Vanity Fair, and other news organizations also reported on the possible departure of Tillerson from the State Department, citing unnamed senior officials.
The New York Times added that under the plan, Senator Tom Cotton would likely replace Pompeo at the helm of the CIA, according to RFE/RL.
Pompeo is a former three-term Republican congressman from Kansas who has been a strong Trump supporter.
The White House responded to the reports by saying, “There are no personnel announcements at this time.”
“Secretary Tillerson continues to lead the State Department, and the entire cabinet is focused on completing this incredibly successful first year of President Trump’s administration,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
Moments earlier, when asked about the reports ahead of talks with the visiting crown prince of Bahrain, Trump said: “He’s here. Rex is here” for the meeting.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had called the department to assure officials that the reports Tillerson was about to be replaced were not true.
Nauert said Trump and Tillerson had disagreed on issues, but that doesn’t mean the president wants to get rid of the secretary.
“Certainly, they will have areas of disagreement, when it comes to policy. Of that there’s no doubt, and it’s very clear,” she said, insisting that Trump welcomes having policy options to choose from.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Tillerson’s closest ally in the administration, brushed off the reports of Tillerson leaving. “There’s nothing to it,” he said.
The New York Times said it was not immediately clear if Trump had given his final approval for the changes, which would represent a major shakeup at the top of the U.S. administration.
U.S. media have reported that the U.S. president lost confidence in Tillerson, the former chief executive of energy giant ExxonMobil Corp., who was without previous diplomatic experience.
The president and the secretary of state have often contradicted each other in public statements regarding major international issues.
Tillerson has also been accused by Democrats and some Republicans of weakening U.S. diplomacy by not filling major positions at the State Department.
Late on November 30, the State Department announced that Tillerson was scheduled to travel to Brussels, Vienna, and Paris on December 4-8 for NATO, European Union, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe meetings.
Based on reporting by The New York Times, AP, Reuters, and Vanity Fair