Buffeted by multiple reports that President Trump will replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in another of the top-level shakeups that have roiled the administration, the State Department struggled Thursday to portray business as usual.
Trump is considering replacing Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo by Jan. 20, a year after Trump’s inauguration, a source close to the administration told The Times, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal workings at the White House.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who is close to Trump, would replace Pompeo at the top of the CIA, the source said.
Tillerson participated in two meetings at the White House on Thursday, returning between them to a State Department where his leadership as America’s top diplomat has been widely criticized as lackluster.
At one point, Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, telephoned Tillerson’s chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, to assure the staff that media reports of Tillerson’s imminent ouster were not true.
Tillerson earlier had breakfast with his frequent ally, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, according to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
In a news briefing, Nauert was asked how Tillerson will conduct normal diplomatic work next week when he meets his counterparts on a visit to Europe given the growing reports that he is a short-timer and does not enjoy the president’s confidence.
“The secretary is someone whose feathers don’t get ruffled very easily,” Nauert said. “He brushed it off. He’s heard these stories before.
“He remains secretary of State,” she added. “He serves at the pleasure of the president.”