Donald Trump, on Twitter, says Rex Tillerson will remain as top US diplomat

Rex Tillerson speaks with reporters after meeting Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Washington, Dec 1, 2017.
Rex Tillerson speaks with reporters after meeting Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Washington, Dec 1, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, NYTIMES) – President Donald Trump said on Friday (Dec 1) that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not leaving the administration, contradicting news reports that the White House was planning to replace the top US diplomat.

"The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon - FAKE NEWS!" Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

"He is not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!"

Tillerson had earlier called reports that the White House wanted him to resign “laughable.”

His remarks came even as one of his closest aides planned to leave the department.

RC Hammond, who has served as Tillerson’s personal press aide, is expected to leave his post this month, according to three people in the department with direct knowledge of the situation and who asked for anonymity to discuss personnel issues.

Hammond denied he would be leaving soon, and offered a joke. “You are not so lucky,” Hammond wrote in an email. “You still get to work with me.”

According to the New York Times, the White House has a plan to force out Tillerson, whose relationship with President Donald Trump has become increasingly awkward, and whose ties with others in the White House are severely strained. It said he was expected to be succeeded by Mike Pompeo, the CIA director who is more closely aligned with Trump on a series of important foreign policy matters.

In a brief appearance before reporters Friday with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of Libya, Tillerson was asked about the White House plan.

“It’s laughable,” he said, and then repeated: “It’s laughable.”

Tillerson has been dogged for months by rumours that he would resign, and for just as long he has dismissed these rumours, even going so far as to hold a news conference in October to say, “There’s never been a consideration in my mind to leave.”

Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobile whose personal net worth is measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars, is the object of speculation as to why he would continue to serve a president who so frequently undermines him.

Tillerson intends to slash the State Department’s personnel by 8 per cent and its budget by 31 per cent. The cuts are needed, he has said many times, because many of the world’s conflicts will soon be resolved, a view that few in the department or in the broader foreign policy community share.

Tillerson has made clear he has little use for much of the day-to-day diplomacy conducted by his diplomats.

His plan for the department is expected to be completed by early next year, with its implementation parceled out over 2018.

Tillerson’s refusal to resign in the face of reports that Trump dislikes him may have been the reason senior administration officials leaked their plan this week to replace him.