While acknowledging leaking the plan to journalist might be designed as an overt "signal to [Tillerson] that it is time to go", the Times reports that the "shake-up of the national security team", apparently being orchestrated by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, "would happen around the end of the year or shortly afterward". The favored candidate to replace Tillerson is current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, which would leave a vacancy at the CIA.
This comes after a bitter few months between Tillerson and Mr. Trump in which the president has repeatedly undermined America's chief diplomat.
A senior administration official who spoke recently with Tillerson says the former Exxon Mobil CEO felt secure in his position and was focused on his State Department reorganization and other diplomacy matters.
Asked what he made of Tillerson's reported pending departure, Mattis said: "I make nothing of it".
It was not clear Thursday whether the president had given final approval to the reported cabinet changes.
This combination of pictures created on November 30, 2017 shows US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and CIA Director Mike Pompeo in Washington, DC.
Tillerson has embittered many in the State Department by embracing the planned budget cut, failing to get top officials into key diplomatic jobs, relying on a handful of aides and keeping his distance from career diplomats.
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If carried out, the staff changes would be the latest in a string of firings or resignations in the Trump administration including the departures of the chief of staff, national security adviser and Federal Bureau of Investigation director. Then, he would fill the Central Intelligence Agency job with Sen.
He has offered effusive praise for Trump despite the president's criticism of US intelligence agencies, some of which concluded that Russian Federation conducted an influence campaign to boost Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
The two have clashed on policy issues, including North Korea.
Does the president still have confidence in Tillerson?
Tillerson at the time refused to directly address the report that he referred to Trump as a "moron", saying that he would not "deal with petty stuff like that".
He has also been a defender of the worldwide community's nuclear deal with Iran - an agreement Trump pledged to scrap on the campaign trail, and has continued to lambast after taking office.
Tensions have also run high between Tillerson and veteran diplomats who oppose his proposed staff and budget cuts.