President Trump dismissed rumors of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s imminent departure on Friday afternoon, declaring them “FAKE NEWS!” (caps in the original.)
The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon – FAKE NEWS! He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!https://t.co/FrqiPLFJ1E
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 1, 2017
The Instagram link in the president’s tweet says the same thing, except with a picture of Secretary of State Tillerson taking his oath of office:
Trump was responding to a New York Times report that claimed White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has prepared an elaborate plan for Tillerson’s departure, with CIA Director Mike Pompeo replacing Tillerson at State, and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) taking over as CIA Director. The Times then set about attacking Cotton as unqualified for the CIA job.
Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake said on Friday morning that Tillerson’s job might be in jeopardy because he has not filled enough of the open positions at the State Department, leaving too much in the hands of career bureaucrats and foreign service officers who “we already know are very much at odds with whatever you could say you think Trump’s agenda is at this point, which is quite mercurial, as we know.”
“These rumors about Tillerson leaving early and Pompeo leaving CIA to come in, to take over the State Department, have been flying around Washington since the summer,” Lake observed. He said he nevertheless trusted the New York Times’ reporting on the existence of a plan to replace Tillerson, but speculated it might be just a means for Trump to send a message to Tillerson and his staff, rather than a serious action plan to sack him.
Secretary of State Tillerson himself called the report of his imminent departure “laughable” on Friday, even as the New York Times insisted its report about the plan to fire him is solid and speculated the plan might have been leaked by “senior administration officials” frustrated by Tillerson’s refusal to resign.
Other reports holding that Tillerson’s press aide R.C. Hammond will soon leave his post were mocked by Hammond, who told reporters in an email, “You are not so lucky. You still get to work with me.”
CNN speculates that Tillerson’s relationship with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has “soured in recent months” following a report that Tillerson referred to President Trump as a “moron” over the summer. As a retired Marine general, Kelly is said to view Tillerson’s comment as insubordination.
“Kelly, once Tillerson’s fiercest defender in the West Wing, has stopped defending him privately, leaving him more isolated from the West Wing than ever before, according to a top White House official,” CNN relates. However, the State Department says Kelly made a strong statement of support for Tillerson on Thursday afternoon.
“Chief of staff Kelly called our department this morning and said the rumors are not true. He remains the secretary of state. As long as he is serving at the pleasure of the President he will continue to do that job,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.