Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley offered a weak defense of President Donald Trump on Tuesday during her first live TV interview since resigning from his administration last December.
Haley, a former Trump critic who became one of his most loyal supporters after his election victory in 2016, appeared on NBC’s “Today” to promote her newly released memoir, “With All Due Respect.”
During the interview, she shrugged off the president’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden, telling host Savannah Guthrie that she had “made up her mind” on impeachment.
“Impeachment is literally the worst punishment you can do to a public official,” Haley said.
Trump used $400 million in military aid and an invitation to the White House as leverage in his attempt to get Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating Biden, several current and former officials privately testified before House investigators. Trump eventually released the aid, but only after Republicans urged him to do so and a whistleblower filed a complaint about the matter.
But Haley suggested Trump’s intentions are irrelevant because he didn’t get what he wanted anyway.
“You’ve got a situation where there was no investigation and the aid flowed as it was supposed to,” she said. “So when you look at that situation, it’s hard to see where impeachment would qualify.”
Guthrie quickly fired back: “Can I stop you right there? Because ... that doesn’t seem like much of a defense of the president ― that he might have tried to do those things but it didn’t work out so it’s all OK.”
Haley responded that impeachment is “serious” and argued that it should be up to U.S. voters in 2020 ― not members of Congress who serve as a check on the executive branch ― whether Trump should remain in office.
“The president has said this was a ‘perfect call.’ Do you think this is a perfect call?” Guthrie asked Haley of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the centerpiece of the impeachment inquiry.
“If in his mind he thinks it was a perfect call ―” Haley responded, before Guthrie interrupted her to press the question again.
“You know, I think it’s never a good practice for us to ask a foreign country to investigate an American,” Haley said. “It’s just not a good practice.”
“Having said that, there’s no insistence on that call, there are no demands on that call,” she continued. “It is a conversation between two presidents that’s casual in nature and it’s just hard to find anywhere that the president of Ukraine would have thought funds were being held and that he had to do this.”
Haley, considered by Republicans to be a top presidential contender for 2024, also discussed the explosive revelation in her book that then-White House chief of staff John Kelly and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson actively worked against Trump’s agenda to “save the country” while in office.
Haley said the two men were “very aware” that she didn’t agree with their actions and that she told Trump about their intentions.
“I have always referred to John Kelly as a patriot ... but to undermine a president because you think you know better than him is wrong,” she said. “It’s wrong whether it’s a Republican president or a Democratic president.”
Tillerson has denied Haley’s claims that he sought to undermine Trump. Kelly told The Washington Post that he’s “guilty as charged” if “working against Trump” means 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.”
Asked Tuesday if she ever questioned Trump’s fitness for office or his mental acuity, Haley said “never.”
“I never had any concern about whether he could handle the job,” she said. “He was truthful, he listened and he was great to work with.”