So when Nikki Haley tells us that the president’s former chief of staff and secretary of state spearheaded just such an effort, maybe the story isn’t that she said no?
Haley has a new book of her own, which describes her being approached by John Kelly and Rex Tillerson to, in her words, “undermine” the president. The details of that approach are somewhat in dispute. But here’s the gist of how Haley describes it, via The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan:
“Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the president, they weren’t being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country,” Haley wrote.“It was their decisions, not the president’s, that were in the best interests of America, they said. The president didn’t know what he was doing,” Haley wrote of the views the two men held.Tillerson also told her that people would die if Trump was unchecked, Haley wrote.
Haley’s refusal is significant in that she’s perhaps the Republican Party’s brightest rising star and someone many view as a possible future presidential candidate — and maybe even a replacement for Vice President Pence on the 2020 ticket. It’s also significant because she has shown a capacity to criticize Trump when she thought it was necessary, and there were even some thoughts that she resigned in October 2018 because she was disillusioned. She has clearly hitched her wagon to Trump now, at least to some degree, which is important.
The bigger story, though, is that two even-higher-ranking officials took such an extraordinary step that allowed for Haley’s refusal. The danger of Kelly and Tillerson making such an approach is exactly what we’re seeing today: that they would be outed by other officials. They did it anyway.
(A side question: Did Haley keep this to herself? Or did she tell the president? If it’s the former, that’s not exactly a strong signifier of devotion to Trump. That could be read as her just not wanting to rock the boat.)
Tillerson has declined to comment on Haley’s allegation, but he has been critical of Trump since departing Foggy Bottom. The brief statement Kelly offered is perhaps more telling. He told Gearan that if providing Trump “with the best and most open, legal and ethical staffing advice from across the [government] so he could make an informed decision is ‘working against Trump,’ then guilty as charged.' ” He seems to be at once suggesting that Haley’s version of events is slanted while also semi-confirming it.
Which is huge. The big takeaway here is that two of the most important Cabinet officials in the Trump administration were apparently alarmed enough by the president’s actions that they were willing to go to this length. Trump allies will want to believe that’s because they were part of the “deep state,” but these are people Trump chose for these extremely important jobs and who worked closely with him. They’re also among the people we knew were out there but we were unable to locate. They were apparently so worried about Trump that one of them predicted deadly results if he weren’t at least somewhat held in check.
And Haley just came out and told us who they were — and that they weren’t some middling deputy secretaries. That’s not exactly an affirmation of the president she apparently wants to align with.