Early Thursday, reports emerging form the New York Times revealed that a plan is in the works at the White House to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from his post, replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and replacing Pompeo with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).
As the White House and State Department were grilled on the plan by reporters, an initial blanket denial of the scheme quickly gave way to admission that the White House had deliberately leaked the plan to the New York Times as a way of “sending a message” to Tillerson about their increased hostility toward him.
Ironically, as this was going on, Gen. John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff and apparent author of Tillerson’s ouster, was calling the State Department and assuring them that it wasn’t the case. In the end, officials would only say that no final decision has been made, and Trump absolutely refuses to express any public confidence in Tillerson any longer.
Tillerson’s position was long believed to be tenuous, with Trump undercutting his diplomatic efforts at every opportunity, and reportedly getting cozier with Pompeo, a hawk who has been largely critical of diplomatic efforts throughout his career in politics.
Tillerson assured North Korea the US didn’t seek regime change, Trump declared Tillerson to be “wasting his time” on diplomacy, and Pompeo has been advocating aggressive moves against North Korea, which fit more neatly into Trump’s “totally destroy North Korea” threats.
The loss of Tillerson might be felt abroad quickly, however, as he’s been fairly popular overseas, putting serious work into try to do damage control for Trump’s behavior. The administration was unlikely to appreciate all that Tillerson was doing to keep the international community at least sort of calm amid Trump’s screeds, but may feel his absence when Pompeo is America’s top diplomat.
Sen. Cotton taking over the CIA is also likely to be controversial, as Cotton is an outspoken supporter of torture. This too is likely to earn him favor with President Trump, who has repeatedly claimed torture “works,” despite assurances from experts to the contrary.