Hours after his boss, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was ousted Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of public affairs at the State Department, has been fired by the White House.
Goldstein publicly contradicted the White House account of how Tillerson was fired on Tuesday morning.
Goldstein said Tillerson was officially notified he’d been fired from a tweet from President Donald Trump on Tuesday morning, and in a statement, said Tillerson had “every intention of remaining.”
A senior administration official said Trump asked Tillerson to step aside on Friday and a senior White House official later clarified that chief of staff John Kelly told Tillerson that he would be replaced, but did not specify the timing.
Asked how Tillerson learned of his dismissal, Trump said Tuesday that “Rex and I have been talking about this a long time.” He specifically mentioned the Iran nuclear deal as an example of disagreement.
“We were not really thinking the same,” Trump said. “With Mike Pompeo, we have a similar thought process.”
“This has been an honor of a lifetime and I’m grateful to the secretary and the President for this opportunity. I wish everyone well and look forward to getting more rest and perhaps winning an indoor rowing competition. We will see what happened next,” Goldstein said in a statement to CNN.
As undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, Goldstein was the fourth highest ranking official at the State Department. He was sworn in on December 4.
Trump has designated State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert to be the acting undersecretary of state for public diplomacy.
With Goldstein gone, the State Department has only one permanent undersecretary in place out of six. The other, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, plans to retire when his successor is confirmed. Two additional nominees are pending approval by the Senate.
Tillerson’s chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, and deputy chief of staff, Christine Ciccone, also submitted their resignations on Tuesday, according to two senior State Department officials. Both are expected to serve until Tillerson leaves on March 31.
One of the officials, who is an aide to Tillerson, said that among Tillerson’s senior staff, “everyone is totally shocked.”
A second official has told CNN that the mood on the seventh floor, where the secretary’s office is located, is “fine,” adding that “everyone just wants to support the deputy secretary right now.”
“If this had happened in the fall, it would have been seen as something anticipated. Since he had survived this long, everyone thought he had gotten through the worst part of it,” the first official said.
The first official also said that the announcement of the North Korea talks with Tillerson out of the country was a sign that things were awry. “The diplomatic event of the President’s career and the secretary of state is nowhere to be found? That was not a good sign.”
Tillerson’s departure comes just as the Trump administration embarks on its most difficult and ambitious foreign policy goal to date – engaging the nuclear armed North Korean regime. Trump is set to meet leader Kim Jong Un by the end of May.
Tillerson had spearheaded the maximum pressure campaign that the administration credits with getting the North Koreans to the negotiating table, bringing up the issue in every country meeting he had, no matter how seemingly unrelated.
CNN’s Laura Koran and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.