×

Trump weighs plan to oust Tillerson, put CIA’s boss at State

  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson answers a reporters question about North Korea while he meets with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, left, at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. The White House is discussing a plan to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo, according to an administration official, who sought anonymity to discuss internal thinking. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) Cliff Owen

  • FILE - In the May 11, 2017 file photo, CIA Director Mike Pompeo listens while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. The White House is discussing a plan to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Pompeo, according to two administration officials. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File) Jacquelyn Martin

  • FILE - In this May 11, 2017 file photo, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Cotton's office says he's focused is on serving the people of Arkansas in the Senate. That's after reports that he might be picked to run the CIA in a major shake-up of President Donald Trump's national security team. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Jacquelyn Martin

  • President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci



Associated Press
Thursday, November 30, 2017

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 following 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 yet 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 both the tone and direction of the president’s foreign policy, removing it from the understated former oil man whose style has never 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 was first 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 that 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 his boss. Soon after, Trump publicly challenged his secretary to an IQ match.

For Tillerson, who left his job as ExxonMobil’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.

When Tillerson was tapped for the job late last year, many Trump critics expressed quiet relief that he’d picked a sober “adult” who could form a counterweight to the president’s brasher, impulsive approach, especially on critical matters of war and peace.

Yet divisions on key foreign policy issues emerged quickly, and Trump has repeatedly undermined Tillerson by voicing positions at odds with those the State Department was pushing.

When Tillerson in June called on Arab nations to ease their blockade on Qatar, Trump emerged in the Rose Garden hours later to lambaste Qatar for funding terrorism. Trump also deemed diplomacy with North Korea a waste of time, when Tillerson was pursuing just that. Tillerson’s advice to Trump to stay in the Paris climate deal and certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal was similarly overruled.

Pompeo, in contrast, has formed a tight relationship with Trump that’s led to a role much broader than many past CIA chiefs. A former businessman and conservative Republican congressman from Kansas, Pompeo is at the White House nearly every day to deliver the daily intelligence briefing, a task often delegated to less senior officials. He sometimes stays longer to accompany Trump to other meetings. He shares the president’s hard-line stance against Iran.