Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson is on his way out after a rocky relationship with President Trump but likely will finish out the year, according to administration officials.
The president has had a fractious relationship with his top diplomat for months, and the leaks to news media that added to the friction also revealed the plan Thursday to ease Mr. Tillerson out the door.
Mr. Trump is considering replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo within weeks. The president would then tap Army combat veteran Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, to take over at Langley, The New York Times first reported.
Administration official confirmed to The Washington Times that the plan to oust Mr. Tillerson, a former Exxon CEO, had been set in motion.
The White House pushed back has best it could to allow Mr. Tillerson a graceful exit.
"When the president loses confidence with someone, they will no longer be here," said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, noting that Mr. Tillerson was with Mr. Trump earlier to host the Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain at the White House.
However, under a barrage of questions at the daily White House briefing, Mrs. Sanders refused to explicitly say that the president still had confidence in Mr. Tillerson.
Earlier, Mr. Trump also offered a lackluster defense of his secretary of state. "He's here. Rex is here," said the president.
Mrs. Sanders said she wouldn't waste her time trying to figure out the origin of anonymously sourced news stories about intrigue in the president's Cabinet. She also said the reports would not impede Mr. Tillerson from doing his job.
"The secretary of state is a pretty tough guy," she said.
Former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called the report of expected personnel changes "a disastrous leak."
"Whoever did it is not loyal to the President and it's harmful to the State Dept. This lack of discipline is a mess," Mr. Fleischer tweeted.
Mr. Trump's relationship with Mr. Tillerson has been fraying for months, coming to a boil in October when NBC News reported that at a Pentagon meeting over the summer the secretary called the president a "moron."
Mr. Trump also publicly broke with Mr. Tillerson over announcing Sept. 30 that he had opened "lines of communications" with North Korea.
"I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," Mr. Trump tweeted the next day. "Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!"
Mr. Tillerson shrugged off reports that he was being replaced by Mr. Pompeo, said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
"He kind of brushed this off today. He's heard these kinds of stories before," she said. "He's just going on about his business."
She said White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who reportedly developed the reorganization plan, had called Mr. Tillerson's top aide to say "the rumors are not true, that the reports are not true."
Washington insiders have long speculated that Mr. Tillerson wouldn't last out the year. Names bandied as potential replacements included U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki R. Haley.
Instead, Mr. Pompeo a former three-term member of Congress, emerged to head up the State Department, which has been in turmoil since the start of the Trump administration due to budget cuts and an exodus of career diplomats.
While Mr. Pompeo has faced some criticism within the intelligence community for being too political, he has also been seen as a trusted Trump policy adviser.
Mr. Cotton has also emerged as one of the president's trusted confidants on foreign policy and national security.
His Senate term runs until 2020, so his departure would place another Republican-held seat in play during the 2018 midterm elections.
The advocacy group Win Without War said the expected moves of Mr. Pompeo to the State Department and Mr. Cotton to the CIA would make war more likely, particularly with Iran.
"Cotton's elevation as head of the CIA should worry all Americans, as he has, for example, been a long time advocate for military action against Iran and regime change in Tehran, supports the use of torture, called for journalists to be arrested and prosecuted for reporting stories he disagrees with, and peddles false claims like Iraq was involved in the 9/11 terror attacks," said the group's director, Stephen Miles.
He said the potential pairing of Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Cotton "is a dangerous formula for U.S. and international security and will further isolate the United States within the global community."
"Should both men ultimately be nominated, we will work tirelessly to oppose their confirmation," he said.
⦁ Dan Boylan contributed to this report.