The White House is contemplating a plan to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose relationship with President Donald Trump has been strained, and replace him within weeks by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the New York Times cited senior administration officials as saying.
According to the plan, Pompeo would probably be succeeded at the CIA by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and key ally of the president on national security matters. Cotton has signaled that he would accept the job if offered, said the officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations before decisions are announced.
Trump asked John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, to develop the transition strategy, and it has been discussed with other officials, one administration source said.
It was not immediately clear whether Trump had given final approval to the reshuffle, but one of the officials said the president asked for the plan to be put together.
Tillerson’s long-rumored departure would end a troubled tenure for the former Exxon Mobil Corp chief executive, who has been increasingly at odds with Trump over issues such as North Korea and under fire for planned cuts at the State Department.
Tillerson was reported in October to have privately called Trump a “moron,” something the secretary of state sought to dismiss.
That followed a tweet by Trump that Tillerson should not waste his time by seeking negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear and missile program, widely seen as a sign of the secretary of state being marginalized.
Under the plan, which has been in the works for weeks, the reshuffle would happen around the end of the year or shortly afterward, the official said.
Asked whether he wanted Tillerson to remain in his job, Trump sidestepped the question, telling reporters at the White House: “He’s here. Rex is here.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Kelly told Tillerson’s chief of staff on Thursday the reports on Tillerson being replaced were not true. Nauert added that Tillerson “serves at the pleasure of the president.”
Asked about Tillerson, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the secretary of state remained in his post. “When the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve here,” she said.