Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Getty(WASHINGTON) — The White House developed a plan in recent months to remove Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from his post and replace him with current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a source confirmed to ABC News on Thursday.
The New York Times first reported that Tillerson’s ouster, spearheaded by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, was being planned for some time in the coming weeks, to allow for Pompeo’s elevation and the subsequent nomination of Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to lead the CIA.
The report was later confirmed to ABC News by a senior White House official.
Trump did not provide a direct answer when asked by ABC News if he wanted Tillerson to remain in his post
“He’s here. Rex is here,” the president answered from the Oval Office where he was meeting with the Crown Prince of Bahrain.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders pushed back against the suggestion that a change was forthcoming, quoting Trump’s comment in a statement and adding, “There are no personnel announcements at this time.”
“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,” Sanders said.
The State Department has not commented on the report.
The news of the White House’s interest in replacing Tillerson comes amid months of reports of tensions between Trump and Tillerson.
In October, the State Department publicly denied a claim, first reported by NBC News, that the secretary once called the president a “moron” at a meeting over the summer with national security advisers. The incident led to the development of the succession plan revealed Thursday, the source told ABC News.
The president expressed doubts days after that report that such a sentiment was publicized, but said if it was true, he said that the pair would “have to compare IQ tests.”
“And I can tell you who is going to win,” Trump added in an interview with Forbes Magazine.
Earlier in October, Trump expressed public disapproval of his secretary of state, writing of Tillerson on Twitter that he was “wasting his time” pursing a diplomatic negotiations with North Korea, instead suggesting, “save your energy.”
Pompeo, a former member of the House of Representatives from Kansas, has led the CIA since his confirmation in January. Upon Trump’s request, Pompeo personally gives the president his daily intelligence briefings instead of sending other briefers from CIA headquarters.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Cotton did not address the report Tuesday, saying only that “Senator Cotton’s focus is on serving Arkansans in the Senate.”
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