NEW YORK — Two of President Trump’s senior advisers undermined and ignored him in what they claimed was an effort to ‘‘save the country,’’ former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley says in a new memoir.
Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson and former White House chief of staff John Kelly sought to recruit her to work around and subvert Trump, but she refused, Haley writes in a new book, ‘‘With All Due Respect,’’ which also describes Tillerson as ‘‘exhausting’’ and imperious and Kelly as suspicious of her access to Trump.
‘‘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.
Tillerson did not respond to a request for comment. Kelly declined to comment in detail, but said that if providing the president ‘‘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.’’
In the book, which was obtained by The Washington Post ahead of its release Tuesday, Haley offers only glancing critiques of her former boss, saying she and others who worked for Trump had an obligation to carry out his wishes since he was the one elected by voters.
The former South Carolina governor, widely viewed by Republicans as a top potential presidential candidate, has repeatedly sought to minimize differences with Trump while distancing herself from his excesses. Haley, 47, writes that she backed most of the foreign policy decisions by Trump that others tried to block or slow down, including withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord and the relocation of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
In a New York interview with The Post coinciding with the book release, Haley also dismissed efforts by House Democrats to impeach Trump. She said she opposes Trump’s efforts to seek foreign help for political investigations in a call with Ukraine’s president, but that the actions are not impeachable.
‘‘There was no heavy demand insisting that something had to happen. So it’s hard for me to understand where the whole impeachment situation is coming from, because what everybody’s up in arms about didn’t happen,’’ Haley said.
‘‘So, do I think it’s not good practice to talk to foreign governments about investigating Americans? Yes. Do I think the president did something that warrants impeachment? No, because the aid flowed,’’ she said, referring to nearly $400 million in sidelined military aid.
‘‘And, in turn, the Ukrainians didn’t follow up with the investigation,’’ Haley said.
In her book, Haley points to several examples of disagreements with Trump. She said she went privately to the president with her concern that he had ceded authority to Russian President Vladimir Putin after the two leaders met in Helsinki in 2017 and with her objection to what she called Trump’s ‘‘moral equivalence’’ in response to a deadly white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., later that summer.
Haley’s experience as governor during the 2015 murders of nine black churchgoers inside a historic African American church in Charleston by an avowed white supremacist made Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville painful, Haley wrote. Trump said ‘‘both sides’’ had been to blame for the violence.
‘‘A leader’s words matter in these situations. And the president’s words had been hurtful and dangerous,’’ Haley wrote. ‘‘I picked up the phone and called the president.’’
Haley did not air any objections publicly, however.
Haley also recounts for the first time that she was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder following the Charleston murders. She described bouts of sobbing, loss of appetite and focus, and guilt for feeling that way when the victims and their families had suffered so much more.
In a CBS interview that aired Sunday, Haley said Trump was ‘‘not appropriate’’ to demand that four black or Hispanic Democratic members of Congress ‘‘go back’’ to their countries. Three of the women were born in the United States and all are US citizens.
But Haley also defended Trump, saying, ‘‘I can also appreciate where he’s coming from, from the standpoint of, ‘Don’t bash America, over and over and over again, and not do something to try and fix it.’’’
Haley is the US-born daughter of Indian immigrants, and writes in the book about the painful experience of being an outsider in the American South, neither white nor black. Her family was frequently ostracized, she wrote, and Haley was essentially disqualified from a children’s pageant because Bamberg, S.C., only crowned one white winner and one black winner.
In writing about the administration, Haley recalls a disagreement she had with Tillerson and Kelly following an Oval Office showdown over her suggestion that the United States should withhold funding for the United Nations agency that supports Palestinians.
Kelly and Tillerson argued that cutting aid could lead to violence, greater threats to Israel, loss of US influence, and political problems for Arab allies, she writes. That view is common among Mideast watchers and Trump critics, who say the administration’s approach is punitive and shortsighted.
Haley said she had the backing of Trump’s Mideast peace envoys, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, but he was not in the room. She did not spell out the views of then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
In the meeting, Haley wrote, Trump seemed to be swinging away from her view, but told the three of them to go resolve their differences elsewhere. In Kelly’s office afterward, Kelly told her, ‘‘‘I have four secretaries of state: you, H.R., Jared, and Rex,’’’ she wrote. ‘‘‘I only need one.’’’
Tillerson and others had an obligation to carry out the president’s agenda because he had been elected, not them, Haley wrote. If they disagreed strongly enough, she said they should quit.
‘‘I was so shocked I didn’t say anything going home because I just couldn’t get my arms around the fact that here you have two key people in an administration undermining the president,’’ Haley said in The Post interview.
On another occasion, Haley said Kelly stalled and put her off when she wanted to get in to see Trump. When she went around him, he complained. Kelly also made it clear that he thought Trump’s decision to make Haley a full member of the Cabinet, and have her attend National Security Council meetings, had been ‘‘terrible,’’ and that he would ensure the next UN ambassador did not carry that rank, she wrote.
Trump gave Haley a warm sendoff last fall, while Kelly’s departure was announced in chillier terms weeks later. Haley’s successor, Kelly Craft, who assumed the UN job in September, does not carry the same rank Haley did. Tillerson, meanwhile, was fired by Trump via Twitter in March 2018.