WASHINGTON, DC – Secretary of State Jim Mattis flatly denied reports that the White House is paving the exit for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the White House has developed a plan to force out Tillerson and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo “perhaps within the next several weeks.”
Mattis told reporters when asked what he made of that report, “I make nothing of it. There’s nothing to it.”
Mattis and Tillerson are close allies in the administration and talk frequently.
On Thursday, President Trump did not shed insight into any future decision-making. When asked if he wanted Tillerson to “stay on the job,” he said, “He’s here. Rex is here.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave reporters a fuller response later at the press briefing.
“Look, as we’ve said many times before – as many of you love to write these type of stories – when the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve in the capacity that they’re in,” she said.
“The president was here today with the secretary of state. They engaged in a foreign leader visit and are continuing to work together to close out what we’ve seen to be an incredible year,” she said.
Both Mattis and Tillerson are scheduled to have lunch with the president on Friday afternoon before Mattis departs on a trip to the Middle East.
There have been repeated stories of tension between Trump and Tillerson and Trump “undercutting Tillerson.” NBC News reported in October that Tillerson called Trump a “moron.” Trump slammed the news outlet and demanded an apology to the nation.
Mattis’s remarks came just before a meeting with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Serraj at the Pentagon, in response to a reporter’s question.
At the beginning of the meeting, which was open to the press, both exchanged pleasantries and discussed the challenges Libya is facing with terrorists.
Serraj said he hoped that a United Nations arms embargo against Libya would be lifted against some branches of the country’s military so that they could better fight terrorism:
We are also facing another challenge, which is the lack of capabilities and means, also the embargo on the armament that the National Accord government is facing, and we hope that this embargo will be partially ended at least against some of the military branches, such as the presidential guard and the Coast Guard.
Serraj is meeting with President Trump at the White House on Friday.