In her forthcoming book about her time in the Trump White House, former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley claims that she was recruited by White House chief of staff John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to subvert the wishes of President Donald 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,” writes Haley in “With All Due Respect,” which is out on Tuesday. (The Washington Post obtained an early copy.)
In the wake of that revelation, much has been made — by Haley — of the fact that she resisted those entreaties. “It should have been, go tell the President what your differences are and quit if you don’t like what he’s doing,” Haley told CBS over the weekend. “To undermine a President is really a very dangerous thing. And it goes against the Constitution and it goes against what the American people want. It was offensive.”
But the focus on Haley — and what she did or didn’t do — misses the point, which is this: Two of the top Cabinet officials within the Trump administration were concerned enough about the behavior of the President of the United States that they were actively reaching out to other influential members of the Cabinet to actively work around him.
That is a VERY big deal. Especially when you consider how Tillerson and Kelly came into their jobs.
The former was the head of Exxon, a massive, multinational company. Trump touted Tillerson as the crown jewel of his Cabinet — a hugely successful and accomplished businessman that only this President could recruit to work for the government.
The latter was a hugely accomplished general who led Southern Command among other gigs in a lifetime spent in the military.
It was these resumes that drew Trump to them. Of all his Cabinet officials, he bragged on these two the most in the early days of his White House. Of Tillerson, Trump said: “He’s a world-class player. He’s in charge of an oil company that’s pretty much double the size of its next nearest competitor.” He so valued Kelly that he when the chief of staff job opened, Trump moved the general from his post as head of the Department of Homeland Security to the vacant job.
Neither of these men were “never Trumpers.” Both were Trump’s top picks for hugely important jobs — perhaps the two most powerful Cabinet gigs — and, at least in the early days of Trump’s presidency, were considered primetime players. These were the people who, along with Trump, were going to shape the future of the country and the world.
Neither Tillerson nor Kelly can be accurately described as so-called “deep state” actors either. Both men were new to this level of government. They were the farthest thing from embedded within the vast government bureaucracy. And not to sound like a broken record, but Trump appointed both of them!
So consider what it means that within a relatively short period of time, not only had both men identified major concerns with the President, but were so concerned that they were reaching out to others within the administration to try recruit them to a protect-the-country-at-all-costs mission.
You can absolutely question — as Haley has done — why Tillerson and Kelly didn’t just resign rather than trying to run a persuasion campaign within the White House to sideline the President. (My guess would be that they would say they were worried what might happen if they left.)
But what, to me, is the most important part of the story is that both of these hugely accomplished Cabinet officials, who were hand-picked for their roles by the President and who, presumably, came into the administration favorably inclined to him, so quickly and clearly assessed that the man they were working for was an active danger to the country.
And such a danger that they were in the process of actively recruiting people within the administration to help them keep the President from doing anything that would endanger the country.
Think about that. It’s terrifying.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly identify that former White House chief of staff John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were the two officials whom Nikki Haley alleges tried to recruit her to subvert Trump’s wishes. The story has been updated to correctly reference Kelly throughout.