White House Plots Shakeup: Tillerson Out, Pompeo To State, Cotton To CIA

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes a statement at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Cliff Owen/FR170079 AP

The White House has developed a plan to push Secretary of State Rex Tillerson out of his post at the State Department and replace him with current CIA Director Mike Pompeo within the next several weeks, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) would reportedly replace Pompeo as head of the CIA. Cotton has signaled he would accept the job, according to White House officials who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity.

The plan to oust Tillerson was orchestrated by President Donald Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly, but it was not clear whether Trump plans to approve the shakeup, according to the Times.

The Associated Press and CNN also confirmed reports that the White House is planning to replace Tillerson with Pompeo.

Trump did not confirm or deny reports of the planned shakeup Thursday. When asked about Tillerson, Trump responded bluntly.

“He’s here, Rex is here,” Trump said to shouted questions from reporters about the secretary of state’s fate.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made similar remarks Thursday, telling reporters that the White House had “no personnel announcements at this time.”

“As the President just said, ‘Rex is here.’ There are no personnel announcements at this time,” she said, via the White House press pool report. “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.”

If all goes according to Kelly’s plan, the transition could take place around the new year, making Tillerson’s post in the State Department the shortest tenure ever served by a secretary of state — who didn’t leave because of the election of a new president — in almost 120 years, according to the Times.

The move shouldn’t come as a surprise to White House and State Department insiders who have witnessed the tension between Trump and the former Exxon Mobile CEO, who has become increasingly frustrated with the President over everything from staffing the State Department to Trump’s take on the Iran nuclear deal to his handling of the missile crisis in North Korea.

Over the summer, Tillerson reportedly threatened to resign from his post and called Trump a “moron.”

Trump has in turn claimed he has a higher I.Q. than Tillerson and publicly criticized Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts in North Korea, saying the secretary of state is “wasting his time.”

Administration officials initially predicted that the ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, would likely be Tillerson’s replacement, but the White House has grown fond of Pompeo and the President has been impressed by his work within the spy agency, according to the Times.

The Times reported that Pompeo has become one of Trump’s most trusted policy advisers as well, as the former three-term Congressman tends to offer advise on issues far outside his reach as CIA director.

A spokesperson for the CIA said the agency has no comment on the reports of Pompeo’s departure.

Cotton has remained an important Trump ally within the Senate. Cotton, along with Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), introduced legislation in August that would overhaul the immigration system to a more “merit based” model. Trump publicly threw his weight behind the plan, which, among many things, would favor green card applications for immigrants who can speak English.

Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt Tabler told TPM “Senator Cotton’s focus is on serving Arkansans in the Senate.”

The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.
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