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Friday December 14th, 2018 3:31AM

The Latest: Key vacancies at the top at State Department

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (all times local):

1 p.m.

Now that Rex Tillerson and a key aide are out at the State Department, there are vacancies at the top of the department.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday fired Tillerson, and the White House sacked a top aide, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein. Goldstein had contradicted the official account of how Tillerson was notified of his termination.

The remaining top echelon of officials now consists of Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and the department's No. 3, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, who in January announced he would retire as soon as his successor is chosen.

Goldstein had been in his position for only three months and had angered the White House with previous comments about Trump. On Tuesday, he issued a statement in his name saying that Tillerson had not spoken with Trump and was "unaware of the reason" for his dismissal. He also told reporters that Tillerson had learned of Trump's decision with the president's tweet.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert is expected to replace Goldstein at least temporarily, according to officials.

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12:20 p.m.

Two U.S. officials say the White House has fired one of Rex Tillerson's top aides after he contradicted the official account of the secretary of state's dismissal by President Donald Trump.

The officials said Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, was informed of the move shortly after he released a statement in his name saying that Tillerson was "unaware of the reason" for his termination. Goldstein had also told reporters that Tillerson learned of his firing Tuesday morning from Trump's tweet announcing he was nominating CIA chief Mike Pompeo to lead the State Department.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about personnel moves. Goldstein could not immediately be reached for comment.

— Contributed by AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee

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11:55 a.m.

German officials have expressed concern at the departure of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Michael Roth, a deputy foreign minister, posted Tuesday on Twitter: "The firing of Rex Tillerson won't make things better..."

Center-left lawmaker Thomas Oppermann described Tillerson as "a reliable, intelligent interlocutor" whose departure would be a "further setback for German-American relations."

Oppermann, who is deputy speaker of Parliament, said Trump's decision showed the U.S. president was "capricious and erratic."

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10:35 a.m.

Sen. Bob Corker, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, says President Donald Trump's decision to fire his chief diplomat caught him by surprise.

The Tennessee Republican, who has been Rex Tillerson's most vocal supporter on Capitol Hill, acknowledged "there's been tensions" between Tillerson and Trump.

But he says, it had seemed "that they had learned to work together a little bit better." Corker said he didn't know what precipitated the firing.

Trump announced Tuesday he is replacing Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Corker says he doesn't know a great deal about Pompeo.

In early October, Corker had said that Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, are "those people that help separate our country from chaos."

On Tuesday, Corker said, "I have a lot of faith in Tillerson's judgment. I've shared that with the president many times."

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10:10 a.m.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says he hopes CIA Director Mike Pompeo will "turn over a new leaf" as secretary of state and toughen policies toward Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

Pompeo is President Donald Trump's pick to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Schumer says with the firing of Tillerson, "instability of this administration in just about every area weakens America."

Pompeo would need to be confirmed by the Senate. But Republicans have just a slim 51-seat majority, and confirmation is not certain.

Schumer says, "If he's confirmed, we hope that Mr. Pompeo will turn over a new leaf and will start toughening up our policies towards Russia and Putin."

___

10 a.m.

President Donald Trump says he and ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "disagreed on things."

Trump cites their divergent opinions on the Iran nuclear deal. Iran agreed before Trump took office to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions. The president regularly criticizes the agreement as a bad deal and has repeatedly threatened to end it.

Trump spoke Tuesday of his desire to break the deal, but notes that Tillerson "felt a little bit differently, so we were not really thinking the same."

Trump announced Tuesday that he has fired Tillerson and is replacing him with Mike Pompeo, currently the CIA director.

Trump says he and Pompeo have a "very, very similar thought process."

___

9:55 a.m.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is hailing Mike Pompeo as a "great decision" for next secretary of state.

Haley, who had her own contentious relationship with ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, congratulated Pompeo in a tweet and called him her "friend."

She wrote: "Great decision by the President."

Over months of speculation about Tillerson's future, Haley had been rumored as one possible successor.

___

9:25 a.m.

President Donald Trump is telling reporters that he made the decision to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "by myself."

The president is adding that Tillerson will be "much happier now," and he appreciates his service. Trump says he and Tillerson had been "talking about this for a long time," and they had disagreed on issues like the Iran deal.

Trump is praising the energy and intellect of his incoming Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who has led the CIA.

The president spoke to reporters at the White House shortly before departing for Joint Base Andrews for his trip to California.

___

9:20 a.m.

A top State Department official says President Donald Trump never explained to ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the reason why he was fired.

The undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Steve Goldstein, says Tillerson "had every intention of staying" in the job because he felt he was making critical progress in national security.

Two White House officials said Tillerson was told he was out on Friday. The sources weren't authorized to speak publicly and demanded anonymity.

But Goldstein says Tillerson "did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason."

Goldstein says Tillerson will miss his colleagues at the State Department and the foreign ministers he worked with.

Trump named Mike Pompeo, who had been CIA director, as his new secretary.

Goldstein said, "We wish Secretary Pompeo well."

--Contributed by AP writers Zeke Miller, Matthew Lee and Ken Thomas

___

9 a.m.

Rex Tillerson is out as secretary of state. President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that he's naming CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson.

Pompeo is to be replaced at CIA by Gina Haspel, Pompeo's deputy at CIA. She would be the first woman in that role.

Tillerson had just returned from a shortened trip to Africa hours before Trump's announcement. Trump offered no explanation for the change.

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