Sources told both media organizations that Tillerson is expected to leave his position in January, clearing the way for current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to possibly take over the State Department. Pompeo has reportedly become one of President Donald Trump's closest allies on matters of national security.
Tillerson and Trump have clashed over issues such as the Iran nuclear deal, North Korea, and conflicts between Arab allies.
The White House pumped the brakes on that reporting during Thursday’s press briefing, however.
“As we’ve said many times before, as many of you love to write these types of stories, when the president loses confidence in someone, they will not serve in the capacity that they’re in,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “When the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer be here.”
That statement, while not a confirmation of the reporting, is also not a denial of its accuracy. Nor was the response Trump gave to questions about Tillerson on Thursday.
“He’s here,” Trump said. “Rex is here.”
State Department press secretary Heather Nauert told reporters that John Kelly, White House chief of staff, called Tillerson and told him the rumors are not true. However, the New York Times report said Kelly came up with the plan to replace Tillerson.
The CIA had no comment on Thursday.
While the report of Tillerson’s impending exit has not been confirmed by anyone on the record, the high level of turnover in Trump’s administration adds fuel to the story.
In Trump’s first year in office, several high-level staffers have resigned or been fired, including Tom Price, Sebastian Gorka, Steve Bannon, Anthony Scaramucci, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and Michael Flynn, among others.