By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s expected exit from the Trump administration is one of many staff changes likely as President Donald Trump nears the end of his first year in office, with sources saying top economic adviser Gary Cohn and son-in-law Jared Kushner could be among those who depart.
Cohn, whose relationship with Trump became tense earlier this year, has considered leaving once the Republican effort to overhaul the U.S. tax system is completed in Congress, according to the sources with ties to the White House who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kushner, who has seen his influence in the White House shrink, may receive a “face-saving” exit as he deals with legal challenges related to a special counsel’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign’s potential ties to Russia, one of the sources said.
“This is pure speculation,” said White House spokesman Raj Shah in an emailed statement about potential staff moves.
More junior-level advisers could also use the completion of Trump’s first year and tax legislation as a pivot point to move on, leading to another period of uncertainty that has at times overshadowed Trump’s tenure, which began on Jan. 20.
Things change quickly at the Trump White House. Advisers and Cabinet members who fall out of favor with the president can re-enter his good graces, making it hard to predict staff moves. But shifts in personnel are watched around the world for indications of how Trump will tackle issues ranging from North Korea to regulatory policy.
“It may be February, it may be March, it may be April, but I think once you get to that time period, people are going to feel as though they’ve kind of put their time in,” said one person with close ties to the White House.
“You’re definitely going to see some people leave after tax cuts get done,” said a separate Trump adviser, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the administration.
PLAN FOR TILLERSON
Trump is considering a plan to oust Tillerson, whose relationship has been strained by the top U.S. diplomat’s softer line on North Korea and other differences, senior administration officials said. A State Department spokeswoman said Tillerson’s chief of staff had been told by the White House that the reports of Tillerson being replaced were not true.
Cohn’s future in the White House has come into question since his public criticism of Trump’s response to the violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia in August. Their once-tense relationship has since improved, however, and one source close to the White House said he could stay longer to help spearhead legislation to improve U.S. infrastructure.
“I’d go a little bit against conventional wisdom here and say he’s got one more project to get under his belt before he leaves,” the source said, referring to infrastructure.
The White House noted Cohn’s interview with CNBC earlier this month in which said he did not plan to leave after tax reform was finished. “It’s my plan to stay and work as long as I can help the president drive his economic agenda,” Cohn said.
Two of the sources with ties to the White House said they assumed the White House chief of staff, General John Kelly, wanted at least to outlast his predecessor Reince Priebus’ six-month tenure in the position. The White House spokesman’s statement said discussion of changes was speculation.
One of the sources said Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, could go if a scenario, such as giving him an outside adviser role, were found that appealed to the president.
“Once someone comes up with a solution that sounds right, then I think he’s going to latch on,” the source said.
Kushner told the Washington Post this month that he and his wife, a fellow White House adviser, were “here to stay.”
Though a lot of speculation about departures has focused on high-profile names, the possibility of mid-level staffers leaving could have a big impact on the rhythms of the White House.
“The difference in this administration is that you don’t have replacements already on staff” or people clamoring to get on board, said one of the sources with ties to the White House.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Caren Bohan and Grant McCool)