President, Tillerson to meet Friday following replacement rumors

WASHINGTON — Neither President Donald Trump nor the White House is offering a definitive answer on whether reports are true that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going to lose his job in the coming weeks.

“He’s here, Rex is here,” he said Thursday.

CBS News has confirmed the White House has drafted and is circulating a plan for Tillerson’s exit —replacing him with current CIA Director, Mike Pompeo.

White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders, when pressed on it, also refused to give a simple yes or no answer on Tillerson’s future.

“When the President loses confidence in someone they will no longer serve in the capacity that they’re in.”

A source with direct knowledge of the White House’s thinking told CNN that the reports that emerged Thursday about the plan were released in an effort to express the President’s deep displeasure and publicly shame his secretary of state.

The hope from the White House, the source said, is to push out the plan to replace Tillerson and then “wait for him to punch out.” The issue could come up during a scheduled lunch between President Trump, Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis at the White House Friday.

Mattis said Thursday that “there’s nothing to” the rumors about Tillerson being forced out by the White House.

“I make nothing of it, there’s nothing to it,” Mattis said before a bilateral meeting with Libya’s Prime Minister.

Though several well-placed sources told CBS Kelly has signed off on Tillerson’s exit plan.

The news follows months of growing tension between Tillerson and the President. Among the most high profile disagreements: North Korea. Shortly after Tillerson announced the U.S. was in diplomatic contact with Pyongyang, Mr. Trump tweeted “he is wasting his time.”

There’s also the report that in July, Tillerson called the President a moron in front of a group of officials. Still, the State Department insists Tillerson is continuing with business as usual.

“He kind of, you know, brushed this off today. He’s heard these kinds of stories before,” said Heather Nauert, a spokesperson for the State Department.

 

If this shuffling does happen, that would leave the an opening for CIA Director. Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas would likely be offered that position, but that in and of itself could prove to be a problem.

Cotton isn’t up for reelection until 2020, and moving him to the CIA role would put another Senate seat in play in 2018 — at a time when Republicans have a razor-thin majority. That is giving West Wing officials pause, a source close to the White House said.

If Cotton were to take the CIA job, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, would select someone to fill the vacant seat — and Republican officials would have a tight time frame to field a candidate who can win statewide in 2018, even though Arkansas is a deep red state.

The GOP would have to field a candidate by March 1, when the filing period ends, and the primaries are currently scheduled for May 22.

But the process could hit a roadblock as the governor’s Senate appointee could not run in 2018, according to a clause in the state’s constitution. But the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office raised questions about that clause, noting that US Constitution may offer a conflicting view that could override the state statute.