Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State, left, shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during a swearing-in ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Michael Reynolds/Pool via Bloomberg)

Trump Rejects Reports That Tillerson Is Being Ousted From State

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump rejected reports that he’s looking to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, saying that despite some disagreements “we work well together.”

“The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon - FAKE NEWS! 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!” Trump said Friday on Twitter.

Administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Thursday that the president was considering replacing Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The defense given publicly by officials at the White House Thursday was tepid, suggesting America’s top diplomat was on his way out after months of disagreements with the president over issues from North Korea to Qatar.

Tillerson dismissed the reports as “laughable” on Friday and went to the White House to meet Trump along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

The show of support for Tillerson comes just days before the secretary of state leaves on a four-day trip to Brussels, Vienna and Paris to meet with NATO allies as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

‘Death Blow’

Analysts had said the multiple reports of Tillerson’s demise would undercut his credibility with foreign leaders. Thomas Wright, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, described it as a “death blow.”

Trump has frequently voiced support for embattled aides right up to the moment they leave. And he declined to defend Tillerson when given an opportunity to address the reports on Thursday, leaving it to his spokeswoman to comment later in the day.

“Secretary Tillerson continues to lead the State Department and the entire Cabinet is focused on completing this incredibly successful first year of President Trump’s administration,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at the time. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the same day that Tillerson, like all administration appointees, “serves at the pleasure of the president.”

Trump’s Friday tweet came as the administration was buffeted by news that Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents and is cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible ties to Trump’s campaign. It also came amid continuing debate on Capitol Hill over the Republican tax plan.

Trump and Tillerson, the former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., have repeatedly clashed over policy and politics, but State Department officials had described those disagreements as healthy arguments and said the president enjoyed the sparring. The president’s tweet bolstered that argument.

Relations Soured

After an auspicious start, with Tillerson frequently dining with Trump at the White House in the early months of the administration, their relationship soured over the summer. Tillerson appeared to subtly rebuke the president after Trump’s comments about racial protests that led to a death in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the president was broadly criticized following a politically charged speech he gave to a national gathering of the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson once led.

Relations worsened further in October, after Tillerson had to address reports that he called the president a “moron” following a meeting of the national security team. The secretary of state denounced the report, although he left it to Nauert to deny it.

Among notable policy agreements between the president and his top diplomat: whether to stay in the Paris climate change accord, whether to side with Saudi Arabia in its dispute with Qatar and how hard to seek a diplomatic solution over North Korea’s nuclear program.

After Tillerson told reporters in China in October that the U.S. was talking with North Korean officials through diplomatic back channels, the president undercut him, saying on Twitter that he told his “wonderful” secretary of state that “he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” a reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” Trump added.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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