Trump mulls plan to oust Rex Tillerson
WASHINGTON — After months of clashes on policy and personality, President Donald Trump is considering ousting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replacing him with hard-nosed CIA Director Mike Pompeo after less than a year on the job, senior U.S. officials said Thursday as turmoil within Trump’s national security team burst into the open.
The White House plan, which Trump has not signed off on, would force a major realignment early in his term, also creating a vacancy atop the CIA that officials said could be filled by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. The overhaul could produce a significant shift in the tone and direction of the president’s foreign policy, removing it from the understated former oil man whose style never has fit well with Trump’s.
It is exceedingly rare for a secretary of state, America’s face on the global stage, to be fired or to serve for a year or less. Nor is it common for presidents to have such a significant Cabinet revamp so soon after taking office. Too much churn could fuel the perception of chaos in the Trump White House — perhaps one reason he has yet to pull the trigger.
Tillerson’s likely ouster, which first was reported by the New York Times, loomed awkwardly over an Oval Office meeting Thursday between Trump and the visiting Bahraini crown prince. Asked by a reporter whether he wanted Tillerson to stay on the job, Trump was coy, merely pointing out that Tillerson was in fact in the building.
“He’s here. Rex is here,” the president said.
Timing for any move was uncertain.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Tillerson’s closest ally in the administration, simply brushed off the report.
“There’s nothing to it,” he said when asked.
But White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t deny it. She did suggest no move was imminent, saying the president and Tillerson planned to “work together to close out what we’ve seen to be an incredible year.”
Does the president still have confidence in Tillerson? “When the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve in the capacity that they’re in,” she said.
Friction between the president and the nation’s top diplomat has grown increasingly public through the year.
After a report last month that Tillerson had called the president a “moron,” Tillerson was forced to appear before cameras at the State Department to pledge fealty to his boss. Soon after, Trump publicly challenged his secretary to an IQ match.
For Tillerson, who left his job as Exxon Mobil’s CEO, a premature departure from the Cabinet has seemed increasingly inevitable.
“There’s been a Tillerson death watch since the spring,” said Derek Chollet, a former State Department, Pentagon and National Security Council official in the Obama administration.