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Nikki Haley’s extraordinary rebuke of the White House

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced sanctions against Russia on April 15, but the White House said the announcement was made in error. (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

Nikki Haley might as well have called the White House a bunch of liars.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday rebuffed White House aides’ claims that she bungled an announcement of new sanctions against Russia. After Haley said Sunday that the sanctions were on the way by Monday, the White House appeared to change course and said a decision had not been made. But rather than an admission that President Trump had had a change of heart, word ventured out that Haley had gotten out over her skis.

One anonymous official said Haley had made “an error that needs to be mopped up.” Another more charitably said there had been confusion. Then on Tuesday afternoon, chief White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow was significantly less charitable to Haley, telling reporters at Mar-a-Lago that she “got ahead of the curve” and “There might have been some momentary confusion about that.”

Not so, says Haley. And in fact, she said that even the more charitable explanation is wrong.

With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” Haley said in a statement.

The situation was fraught from the beginning, with Haley making an ironclad and unmistakable announcement of new sanctions. And there was no correction for more than 24 hours, even though it was a major story for that whole time.

After airstrikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities on April 13, lawmakers and Trump administration officials weighed in on the attack. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Susan Walsh/The Washington Post)

From the outside, it looked a lot as if the notoriously fickle Trump had simply changed his mind, but the White House tried to play it off as a mix-up and even Haley’s fault. Haley clearly was not having it -- especially when Kudlow publicly called her out.

But to be clear, her comment Tuesday is a pretty big repudiation of both Kudlow and what the White House has been saying anonymously. Kudlow may have sealed the deal, but he wasn't the first to go down this road. And it's a relatively rare public rebuke of the official White House line on an issue of huge substance internationally, in that it comes directly from a Cabinet-level official.

It also means Haley is effectively saying Trump and/or the White House did change their minds — that their increasingly tough posture on Russia has at least momentarily been arrested.

The exact reason for that is up for debate. The Kremlin complained about the new sanctions, calling them “international economic raiding.” And in what seems like possibly the tipping point for Trump, The Washington Post reported Sunday night that Trump “has battled his top aides on Russia and lost.” I argued Monday that perhaps Trump just decided to exert his authority, even if it made his administration look unmoored.

Whatever the reasons, though, Haley made clear this was not handled well by the administration, and that it was not her fault. It will be interesting to see what lies ahead for her relationship with the White House — and Kudlow.