Kelly called State to knock down reports of Tillerson ouster

Kelly called State to knock down reports of Tillerson ouster
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White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE called the State Department on Thursday to shoot down media reports that a plan had been developed to remove Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonHeather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN ambassador job Trump administration’s top European diplomat to resign in February Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation MORE, according to agency spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

Nauert said at a department press briefing that Tillerson shrugged off reports that the White House had a plan in place to force him out and install CIA Director Mike Pompeo in his place.

"He kind of brushed this off today; he's heard these kinds of stories before," Nauert said. "He's just going on about his business."

"What I can tell you is that chief of staff Kelly called our department this morning and said that the rumors are not true, that the reports are not true," she added.

Nauert said the call from Kelly was to Margaret Peterlin, Tillerson's chief of staff.

Nauert's comments came as Tillerson's future at the State Department was thrust into the spotlight by a report in The New York Times detailing a White House plan to oust the secretary. Nauert dismissed the reports, saying that business would continue as usual at the State Department.

"[Tillerson] has a big agenda. That agenda certainly has not changed. He remains secretary of State. As long as he is serving at the pleasure of the president, he will continue to do that job," she said.

The report said Kelly developed the plan to remove Tillerson, adding that Trump has yet to sign off on it.

Tillerson’s future at the State Department has long been the subject of speculation. The former ExxonMobil chief executive has clashed with Trump on major foreign policy decisions, such as the president’s disavowal of the Iran nuclear deal and the decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

After reports of the potential ouster surfaced on Thursday morning, Tillerson attended a meeting with Trump at the White House. Nauert said the secretary was treated the “same as usual” during his visit.

Tillerson is set to travel to Europe next week, Nauert said, stressing that nothing in the secretary’s schedule would suggest that his tenure at the State Department is winding down.

“The reason I’m telling you about all these comings and goings of the secretary is he remains, as I have been told, committed to doing this job,” she said. “He serves at the pleasure of the president.”