A report published by Axios on Friday cites unspecified sources who say President Donald Trump is considering current CIA Director Mike Pompeo as a replacement for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose relationship with Trump is said to be “broken beyond repair.”
According to the “insiders” who spoke to Axios, the last straw for President Trump was that Tillerson did not do enough to push back against the report on Wednesday that Tillerson called the president a “moron” after a Pentagon meeting in July. It was widely noted that while Tillerson organized a hasty press conference to deny that he had to be talked out of resigning his post, he did not actually deny calling Trump a moron. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert did issue such a blanket denial several hours after Tillerson’s presser.
Axios describes Trump as furious over the amount of coverage the “moron” story has received, eclipsing coverage of the president’s trip to Las Vegas. The institutional relationship has soured as well, leaving White House with “zero trust” in the State Department.
Pompeo has been suggested as a replacement because he has an excellent personal relationship with President Trump and already works with him extensively on the President’s Daily Brief, so he could help rebuild that trust.
Pompeo would also be able to rebuild the State Department’s credibility with world leaders, which has reportedly been damaged because no one believes Tillerson is part of the president’s “inner circle” anymore. The insiders who spoke to Axios are confident Pompeo will accept the position if Trump offers it. The primary opponent of the switch appears to be White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who believes any further high-level staff turnover before the end of the year would destroy the atmosphere of “stability” he has been trying to create.
Another potential stumbling block could be Pompeo’s full plate at the CIA. On Wednesday, he told an intelligence conference at George Washington University that he’s working on reducing red tape at the agency.
“If you are in a process and you’re not adding value, get out of the way,” he said of his approach. “This risk of the absence of agility and speed is a price our agency can’t afford to pay.”
Pompeo said he was trying to get more CIA agents into the field to deal with imminent security threats, improve the agency’s data processing technology, and give station officers more autonomy to make time-critical decisions without consulting Washington. He mentioned during his presentation that President Trump is an “avid consumer” of the intelligence his agency produces.
In mid-September, with rumors swirling that Tillerson might either resign or be fired by the president, Politico reported that Pompeo was one of two favored candidates to replace him, the other being U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
“Pompeo, a former congressman, is not seen as eager to leave a job he loves, while Haley has been asserting herself as someone ready for something bigger since she joined the administration,” Politico wrote.
The report further implied that Haley does not have a very good working relationship with Tillerson, refusing to see herself as his subordinate and handling press conferences without approval from Tillerson’s State Department. Haley was described as having a certain degree of policy friction with President Trump that might make Pompeo a better fit as Secretary of State, notably Haley’s more hawkish stance on confronting human-rights abusers and hostile actors like Russia.