Trump denies Tillerson out as secretary of state

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday denied he wants to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, calling reports to that effect “fake news,” as his top diplomat brushed off speculation that he has lost the confidence of the White House.

As Tillerson went about his normal schedule of diplomatic activities, including two meetings with Trump, the president said his secretary of state is “not leaving.”

“The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon – FAKE NEWS!” Trump tweeted. “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!”

The tweet was Trump’s strongest endorsement of his top diplomat since senior White House officials on Thursday began telling reporters that a plan had been devised to push Tillerson out and replace him with CIA chief Mike Pompeo. Immediately after reports of the plan emerged, Trump offered only tepid support for Tillerson, noting only that he was at the White House for a previously scheduled meeting.

The halfhearted backing amid the swirl of speculation over Tillerson’s imminent demise had threatened to impair his effectiveness, particularly as he prepares for an official trip to Europe next week.

On Friday, Tillerson attended two meetings at the White House with Trump — one with Libya’s visiting prime minister and then a lunch with the president and Defense Secretary James Mattis. Before those meetings, Tillerson told reporters at the State Department that speculation he was on his way out was “laughable.”

COMMENTS