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In the wake of President Donald Trump‘s surprise decision to fire Rex Tillerson, the White House and State Department appear to be at odds over a basic question: Who is currently the secretary of state?
According to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, Tillerson is still secretary of state – despite his very public dismissal. “Secretary Tillerson is still there during a transition period,” Sanders told ABC News earlier Tuesday.
Over at the State Department, a senior State Department official, when asked to confirm that Tillerson is still serving as secretary, said the press office was checking.
At some point, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will become the acting secretary of state, Sanders said. It’s unclear why that change is not imminent and Sanders could not say when it would happen.
Trump announced this morning via Twitter that he was replacing Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Upon learning of Tillerson’s termination, Under Secretary of State for Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein released a statement saying the secretary “had every intention of staying,” that he was “unaware of the reason” for his firing, and that he had not spoken to the president.
Hours later, the White House fired Goldstein as well.
A senior State Department official said Tillerson learned of the president’s official decision from Trump’s tweet and that he was never informed directly by the White House.
Two White House officials say White House chief of staff John Kelly informed Tillerson on Friday that he was being asked to step down.
Tillerson’s dismissal marks the seventh high-profile departure from the White House this year alone.
Last week, Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, quit, as did his communications director and long-time aide Hope Hicks the week before.