Former U.N. Ambassador Haley: Trump Actions 'Not A Good Practice' But Not Impeachable

Nov 10, 2019
Originally published on November 11, 2019 4:30 pm

A onetime member of the Trump administration has some mildly critical words for her old boss but disagrees with Congress' efforts to impeach him.

Former Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said in an interview with NPR on Friday that "it is not a good practice for us ever to ask a foreign country to investigate an American" — referring to President Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential 2020 opponent.

But, she added, "I don't see it as impeachable."

Haley, who served from 2017 to 2018, has written a book about her time as ambassador — With All Due Respect: Defending America With Grit and Grace.

In the interview, she said it's "arrogant" of Congress to attempt to impeach Trump before an election year. "Did the Ukrainians call for an investigation? No," Haley said. "Did the president hold up aid? He released it as he should," she said. And so, in her view, there was no "smoking gun."

Calling impeachment an abstraction, Haley said:

"The American people should decide what they think is right and wrong. For Congress or [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer to sit there and say they are going to decide this for the American people is just wrong."

Haley criticized the anonymous author of the upcoming book A Warning, set to go on sale Nov. 19, which purports to be an insider's account of the White House and outlines an alleged effort to replace Trump under the 25th Amendment with Vice President Pence.

Haley called the author "cowardly" and said she was never in a conversation "that even whispered anything about the 25th Amendment." She said she witnessed "multiple conversations and debates in front of the president," adding that "at the end of the day, the president decides, and if he does and you can't live with it, then quit."

What's more, Haley said, "there is no way that anyone believes that Mike Pence ever considered" replacing the president.

Not to say there wasn't plenty of backroom intrigue at the White House. Haley said there were people within the Trump administration "who tried to undermine the president," citing then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, in particular. Haley said they "tried to recruit me and said they were trying to save the country and that if they did not do something, people would die."

But Haley said it wasn't that they were worried about "a rogue president that was out of control," but rather policy differences they had with Trump, including withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

NPR reached out to Kelly, who declined to comment.

Haley said the embassy move was "one where they said the sky would fall." But, as Haley noted, the embassy was moved and "the sky is still up there."

And Haley, who said she "loved every second" of being ambassador to the U.N., doesn't hide her disdain for Washington. She said that when she would visit the White House, "I couldn't get back to New York fast enough, "because it [Washington] was toxic, it was political and it was trashy."

Haley said she left her U.N. post because after two years there and the preceding six as governor of South Carolina (she was the state's first female governor and its first Indian-American one) she was tired of "going nonstop, 24/7 for eight years" and was anxious to spend more time with her family.

On Sunday, President Trump gave Haley's book a strong endorsement via Twitter, writing:

"@NikkiHaley is out with a new book, 'With All Due Respect' this week. Make sure you order your copy today, or stop by one of her book tour stops to get a copy and say hello. Good luck Nikki!"

Haley said she will be campaigning for Trump's reelection in 2020 and has no political plans beyond that. But she quickly added: "I'm too young to stop fighting." And while she's not running for anything now, she plans on taking it "a year at a time."

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It's a good thing I was never much of a diplomat writes Nikki Haley in her new memoir, the irony being she was one of the world's most prominent diplomats - President Trump's first ambassador to the United Nations. Her memoir is titled "With All Due Respect," and she stopped by to talk about it with our co-host, Mary Louise Kelly.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Haley's lack of patience for diplomatic niceties is on display before you've made it past the prologue. On page two, she brands Trump's first secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, as arrogant and condescending. And you should hear what she says about the top officials of other countries, including Vladimir Putin of Russia. In one of the book's more startling accounts, Haley writes that the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki made her very uncomfortable - so uncomfortable she requested a meeting with Trump.

NIKKI HALEY: It did make me uncomfortable, and the president and I, we have different styles. There is no question about that. And there were times where I thought he - his words were soft on Russia. But the reason that I wasn't overly concerned about that is because his actions were very strong on Russia. You know, whether it was the sanctions, whether it was expelling diplomats, I mean, there were multiple ways that we were bashing Russia. So I knew that he didn't really mean it like the way it sounded. And I wanted him to know that, that it sounded off. And he was actually shocked. He didn't - because no one had told him that.

KELLY: May I just pause there for a second? It kind of blows my mind to hear you say - you don't think any other aide took him aside and said, Mr. President, that press conference with Vladimir Putin was a train wreck?

HALEY: He told me that. He told me that everyone told him he did a great job.

KELLY: His national security adviser, his director of National Intelligence, his chief of staff, nobody said, sir, that was something.

HALEY: His chief of staff was in the room with me when we had that meeting. And he looked at him and he said, everybody told me I did a great job. He was truly shocked.

KELLY: Did that shock you?

HALEY: I always saw it as my responsibility to tell the president when I saw things right and when I saw things wrong. I didn't wait and assume others would do it. He always wanted to be challenged, and he always wanted the truth. And I tried very hard to give that to him, and we had a very respectful relationship.

KELLY: You do describe other White House officials who threw you under the bus - your words. Perhaps the most famous line from your tenure came in response to a comment from White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow. Let's listen.


LARRY KUDLOW: She got ahead of the curve. She's done a great job. She's a very effective ambassador. It might have been some momentary confusion about that.

KELLY: Kudlow saying you got ahead of the curve and there might have been some confusion. Ambassador Haley, you crafted quite the response.

HALEY: With all due respect, I don't get confused. It was short, it was to the point, and it was true. And he knew that. And I've been a woman in politics for a while now, and when it comes to your integrity, your reputation, no one else is going to watch out for you but you. And I had given the administration on this situation, which I go into in the book quite a bit, I gave the administration...

KELLY: Right. It was about - just to give people listening the backdrop, it was about whether new Russia sanctions were coming or not. Go on.

HALEY: And it had been decided in the National Security Council that we were doing sanctions. And I had had a conversation with the president. And at the last minute, I go on the Sunday shows and I say that sanctions are coming down. Well, the president had changed his mind Saturday night, and he has every right to do that. What happened here was I called Kelly, I called Pompeo, I called Bolton. I told all of them this has to be corrected. And I said correct it by telling the truth. Just say that he changed his mind. There's nothing wrong with that.

KELLY: How did you reconcile being a strong, empowered woman and working for a man against whom several women have made credible allegations of sexual misconduct and whom we all heard on that "Access Hollywood" tape talking about grabbing women by the genitals?

HALEY: Well, if any of that conversation had, you know - or any type of conversations like that had ever taken place in front of me, I would have quit - period. But what - all I can tell you is my relationship with the president was one of great respect, great professionalism.

KELLY: I understand that. I just wonder - you have a daughter. You profess to want to stand up for strong women and empower other women. Did it give you pause?

HALEY: You know, I said - I actually was asked, what do you think about the women who are making accusations against the president, and my response was they should be heard. But I think that both sides need to be heard. And so, yes, there were accusations that came out, and the president was elected anyway. And so with that, all I had was the relationship I had with him and the way that I saw him treat other women within the administration. And it was always respectful. So, you know, look, there are no perfect presidents. But at the end of the day, what you want is a good relationship that you can be proud of and results that you can be proud of. And I was very proud of the foreign policy work that we did.

KELLY: Is your respect for and loyalty to Donald Trump or to the president of the United States?

HALEY: Oh, my loyalty and respect is to our country. I mean, it will always be. I have the greatest respect for the country that my parents immigrated to because they knew that we would have a better life. And so my loyalty and service will always be to our country. And the people of America elected President Trump. And so with that, my job was to make sure I worked with him as effectively as I could.

KELLY: May I turn you to this book by Anonymous, written by someone claiming to be a senior official in the Trump administration. It includes the claim that aides to President Trump considered invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. To your knowledge, did that happen?

HALEY: Well, first of all, let me just say this about Anonymous - if you have a problem with the president, you should speak up, but you should speak up to the president. And I saw multiple conversations and debates in front of the president. And at the end of the day, the president decides what policy is. And if you can't live with it, then quit. I was never in a conversation that even whispered anything about the 25th Amendment. There was no...

KELLY: You never heard anything along those lines.

HALEY: Never - never was I in a...

KELLY: Because you do describe in the book conversations among then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and others trying to enlist you to go around behind the president's back and try to undermine his decisions.

HALEY: There were people within the White House who, I believe, tried to undermine the president. There would be a decision made. They'd stall the issue. They'd undermine. They'd distract. And Rex Tillerson and Chief Kelly pulled me in one day and basically tried to recruit me and said that they were trying to save the country. And I disagreed with them then. I disagree with them now.

KELLY: Your argument is they should have spoken up to the president. And if they couldn't persuade him and they couldn't live with it, they should quit.

HALEY: Yes. And my argument with Anonymous now is show your face, show your name, and say what you're saying. To undermine now, it's wrong, and it's quite arrogant, actually.

KELLY: I can't let you go without asking the question people are going to be yelling at their radios - are you running for anything? Will you run for anything? And what would it be?

HALEY: I'm not running for anything. And a year is a lifetime in politics. I mean, you know, I'm not ever going to say never. But I do - can comfortably say now I am not running and that I will continue to be involved. I'm too young to stop. And I love doing anything that lifts up our country. And I hope to continue doing that.

KELLY: Ambassador Haley, thank you.

HALEY: It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

KELLY: That is Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. talking about her new book, "With All Due Respect Defending America With Grit And Grace." And we reached out to John Kelly and Rex Tillerson. They did not respond to our requests for comment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.