U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has reportedly tendered her resignation, and President Donald Trump has accepted it.
Axios first reported Haley’s departure, citing two sources with knowledge of the sudden turn of events. The news shocked a number of senior foreign policy officials in the Trump administration—even catching Vice President Mike Pence and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly off guard—and on Capitol Hill.
During a White House press conference this morning, the president said the resignation will be effective at the end of the year. He said the ambassador, who he called his “good friend,” indicated six months ago that she may want to “take a break” from the high-stakes atmosphere of the UN Headquarters at Turtle Bay:
“Nikki Haley, Ambassador to the United Nations, has been very special to me. She’s done an incredible job. She’s a fantastic person, very importantly, but she’s also is somebody that gets it. She has been at the United Nations from the beginning—with us right from the beginning—and worked with us on the campaign …
“She’s been a very successful governor of South Carolina for eight years and then she did this, and this is possibly more intense with what’s going on in the world … She’s done a fantastic job, and we’ve done a fantastic job together. We’ve solved a lot of problems, and we’re in the process of solving a lot of problems.”
The president said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “thinks the world” of Haley. He said that while everyone in the administration is happy for her as she moves back to private life, but added that he “hates” to lose her.
He said she could return to the White House “in any capacity” in the future, sparking a smattering of chuckles from everyone, given what is known of Haley’s future political aspirations. Many have pegged her as a potential Republican presidential contender, potentially even as a 2020 primary challenger to the president.
Speaking to reporters, Haley said she’s not running for president in 2020, and said she would be campaigning on President Trump’s behalf. She said serving as UN ambassador has been “the honor of a lifetime.”
Although she did not initially support the president during his 2016 primary campaign—she instead endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)—she did eventually become a more vocal supporter during the general election campaign against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Axios report noted Haley was one of the most vocal challengers to the infamous “anonymous op-ed” published by The New York Times, and that she penned her own forceful op-ed in the president’s defense, which stated:
“I don’t agree with the president on everything. When there is disagreement, there is a right way and a wrong way to address it. I pick up the phone and call him or meet with him in person …
“Like my colleagues in the Cabinet and on the National Security Council, I have very open access to the president. He does not shut out his advisers, and he does not demand that everyone agree with him. I can talk to him most any time, and I frequently do …
“If I disagree with something and believe it is important enough to raise with the president, I do it. And he listens.”
The timing of Haley’s departure is inopportune for the administration, coming less than 30 days before the midterm election and just days after the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation—which has prompted liberal mainstream media speculation—but it also closely follows a published report by the Huffington Post in which she was accused of having accepted improper gifts from South Carolina businessmen. Prior to joining the administration, she was governor of the Palmetto State—and even was known to wear a necklace with the state’s symbol throughout her time at the UN.
According to the report, the left-wing “watchdog” group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington complained that Haley had taken $24,000 flights from South Carolina businessmen, and demanded an investigation by the State Department’s inspector general. The group’s executive director, Noah Bookbinder, said:
“By accepting gifts of luxury private flights, Ambassador Haley seems to be falling in line with other Trump administration officials who are reaping personal benefits from their public positions. Our ethics laws are clearly written to prevent even the appearance of corruption and improper influence.”
The flights were disclosed on her public financial disclosure report this year, so it’s unclear if this report could have had anything to do with her resignation.
Another possibility that has been floated in the media is that Haley would be involved in a political shuffle involving Attorney General Jeff Sessions—who increasingly appears to be on the way out after the midterm election—and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is the leading candidate to replace him. Gov. Henry McMaster, who would pick Graham’s successor, was Haley’s lieutenant governor prior to her resignation.
The question now turns to who might replace Haley at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York City. A spokesman for one of the top candidates when she was originally picked in 2016, Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, said he has not been offered the job.
The other top candidate, Kelly Ayotte, did not respond to requests for comment.
The president said, however, that there were a number of people who have expressed interest in the job. Curiously, just before the news broke, Haley posted a photo of herself on boat in South Carolina, joined by someone who appears to be former Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell—who is reportedly a very close friend of the ambassador.