Washington: Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, says in a new book that she resisted entreaties by other top aides to President Donald Trump to undermine his policies, revealing more about the fractious world of loyalty and betrayal around the president.
Haley writes in her new memoir that John Kelly, then the White House chief of staff, and Rex Tillerson, then the secretary of state, tried to recruit her to join them in circumventing policy decisions by the president that they viewed as dangerous and reckless, an outreach she said she rebuffed.
“Instead of saying that to me, they should have been saying that to the president, not asking me to join them on their sidebar plan,” Haley told Norah O’Donnell of CBS News. “It should have been, go tell the president what your differences are and quit if you don’t like what he’s doing. But to undermine a president is really a very dangerous thing, and it goes against the Constitution and it goes against what the American people want. And it was offensive.”
Haley, a former South Carolina governor who stepped down as Trump’s UN envoy a year ago, gave the interview as part of the rollout of her new book, “With All Due Respect: Defending America With Grit and Grace,” to be released Tuesday. Her account comes even as others are emerging about the debates within Trump’s circle through the House impeachment inquiry and the publication of a book by an anonymous senior administration official.
Unlike “Anonymous” and many administration officials testifying on Capitol Hill, who describe deep discomfort with the president’s integrity and capacity, Haley defends Trump despite their differences on policy. Haley is seen by many Republicans as a future presidential candidate, and the tone of her memoir indicates she wants to stick by the president and the conservative base he commands — earning her a presidential tweet promoting her book Sunday.
In the interview with CBS and another with The Washington Post, Haley spoke out against impeaching Trump for using the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to provide damaging information about former Vice-President Joe Biden and other Democrats at the same time he was withholding $391 million in security aid to resist Russian aggression.
Asked if she thought Congress would impeach and remove Trump from office, Haley said: “No. On what? You’re going to impeach a president for asking for a favour that didn’t happen and giving money and it wasn’t withheld? I don’t know what you would impeach him on.”
Several top aides, including Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, have said Trump directly linked the aid to his demand that Ukraine investigate Democrats, although Mulvaney later tried to take back his admission. The security aid, which had already been approved by Congress, was eventually released only after senators from both parties pressured Trump into backing down.
Haley, who positioned herself as tough on Russia while at the United Nations, said she saw nothing impeachable about the president’s July 25 conversation with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine in which he asked the Ukrainian to “do us a favour” by investigating Democrats.
“When you look at the transcript, there’s nothing in that transcript that warrants the death penalty for the president,” she said in the CBS interview, characterising impeachment as the political equivalent of capital punishment.
“The Ukrainians never did the investigation, and the president released the funds,” she said. “When you look at those, there’s just nothing impeachable there.”
Moreover, Haley said, impeachment would upend a democratic election. “The American people should decide this,” she said. “Why do we have a bunch of people in Congress making this decision?”
Haley has straddled a precarious line with Trump over the years. During the 2016 presidential campaign, she supported Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for the Republican nomination and sharply assailed Trump, saying his penchant for political attacks was risky and warning that he could even get the US into “a world war” because of his anger every time he is criticised.
Despite that, she joined his Cabinet after the election. From time to time, she disagreed with him on matters like Russia and his response to the white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. But she broadly remained loyal, despite the wishes of establishment Republicans who hoped she would emerge as a responsible counterpoint to a president they consider volatile and rash.
As she re-emerges on the political scene after a year, Haley played down any differences. The daughter of immigrants from India and for a time one of the few senior administration officials of colour under Trump, she defended the president for his outburst at four liberal Democratic congresswomen of colour, whom he told to “go back” to their home countries, even though three of them were born in the US and the other is a naturalised American citizen.
“It’s not appropriate,” she said, “but I also can appreciate where he was coming from in the standpoint of don’t bash America over and over and over again and not do something to try and fix it.”
Haley said Tillerson, who was fired via tweet last year, and Kelly, who left at the end of the year, characterised their concerns with Trump as dire. “Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the president, they weren’t being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country,” she writes in the book.
Neither man responded to requests for comment Sunday, but in a statement to The Post, Kelly said that if providing the president “with the best and most open, legal and ethical staffing advice” from across government “so he could make an informed decision is ‘working against Trump,’ then guilty as charged.”