Politics & Government

Former Trump official Haley on working for the president: ‘We never had a conflict’

Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, visited North Carolina Friday to talk about her life, career and working for the president.

“A lot of people have asked how I was able to leave the [President Donald Trump] administration unscathed — and the answer is I told the president the truth,” said Haley, a Republican who also served as governor of South Carolina.

Haley spoke to a crowd of thousands at Elon University for its fall convocation. Most of the audience was older adults, though there were some students as well.

Haley said her role as a cabinet member was to advise.

“We never had a conflict,” Haley said. “He always heard me out. It didn’t mean I won all the time, but he always heard me out and had a conversation on it.

“Life is easier when you tell the truth,” she said.

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Nikki Haley’s new book, “With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace,” will go on sale Nov. 12, 2019. Submitted by St. Martin's Press

Haley was governor from 2011 to 2017, and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 until her resignation in late 2018.

She recently moved back to South Carolina, fueling speculation that she may run for office again, The Associated Press reported. Haley is also promoting her new book, “With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace,” with several stops on the East Coast.

The book title references her comment to a White House official — “with all due respect, I don’t get confused” — when the White House suggested she was “confused” when she announced Russian sanctions that didn’t go into effect.

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Nikki Haley, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, left, takes part in a question-and-answer session with Dr. Aldona Wos, the former U.S. ambassador to Estonia, during the first event in Elon University’s 2019-20 Speaker Series. Elon University

Friday, she answered pre-submitted questions from Elon students that were asked by Aldona Wos, former head of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and an Elon donor. Wos also was the United States Ambassador to Estonia from 2004 to 2006.

Haley was not available for media interviews before or after the event, according to the university.

Haley spoke about the United States’ relationship with Russia during her conversation with Wos.

She said it is important to understand that “Russia will never be our friend, ever be our friend.

“Their power comes from causing chaos,” Haley said. “They’re not wealthy, they don’t have big militaries ... Just like they meddled in the American elections, they also meddled in European elections.”

She also said the United States’ biggest threat now is Iran while the biggest long term threat is China.

During her tenure as ambassador, Haley said, taking the U.S. out of the Human Rights Council was “one of the best things we did, but it was highly unpopular.”

Haley said being the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations made her appreciate the “peacefulness of democracies.”

“America isn’t perfect. I know that. ... I grew up a brown girl in a black and white world,” Haley said, talking about her childhood in Bamberg, S.C., where her father wore a Sikh turban and her mother wore a sari. She was born in South Carolina to an Indian American family.

Haley said there should be more freedom of expression, especially on college campuses.

Elon freshmen Avani Kodali and Julie Hoffmeister, both 18, said they thought Haley had interesting things to say. Kodali said she didn’t know much about Haley before attending her speech.

“It was really interesting, her points as to how Russia uses chaos as their power,” Kodali said. “I thought she didn’t sugar coat it.”

Hoffmeister, who will be voting in a presidential election for the first time in 2020, said she would like a woman to be president and would consider Haley as a candidate if she runs in the future.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.