Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador for the United Nations announced her surprise resignation Tuesday morning, hours after a government watchdog group raised serious questions about Haley's expensive travel habits.
On Monday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), filed a request to have Haley investigated for accepting unethical air travel expenses from three wealthy businessmen in North Carolina. The watchdog organization stated Haley accepted seven free flights for herself and her husband in luxury private aircraft. The flights took places between New York, Washington, D.C., and three cities in her home state of South Carolina.
In 2017, Haley’s public financial disclosure report listed her acceptance of these gifts which is estimated to be valued at tens of thousands of dollars. Haley claimed permissible exemptions on the flight from the executives – all contributed to her governor campaigns – saying they are friends and are separate from her political life.
But CREW asked for Haley to be investigated to see if the gifts are a conflict of interest for the politician and if she broke ethical conduct:
Federal ethics regulations prohibit employees from soliciting or accepting gifts given because of the employee’s official position. They also direct employees to consider declining otherwise permissible gifts if they believe a reasonable person would question their integrity or impartiality as a result of accepting the gifts. At a minimum, Ambassador Haley should have been conscious of the appearance concerns surrounding her acceptance of gifts of private luxury air travel at a time when her colleagues in the administration were making news with their own lavish air travel.
CREW Executive Director, Noah Bookbinder released a statement on the investigation request:
By accepting gifts of luxury private flights, Ambassador Haley seems to be falling in line with other Trump administration officials who are reaping personal benefits from their public positions. Our ethics laws are clearly written to prevent even the appearance of corruption and improper influence. We’re calling on the State Department’s inspector general to further investigate the nature of these gifts, determine whether they are in line with ethics rules, and ensure that employees like Ambassador Haley are fully trained on the application and importance of ethical standards.
Haley identifies the chief executive officer of Gibbs International Inc., Jimmy Gibbs, as the source of four of the gifted flights. While the plane was a company plane, she suggests that Gibbs repaid the company for the use of the plane. But she does not verify how much Gibbs repaid the company. CREW estimates the cost to be close to $24 000. The other two men identified are Smyth McKissick and Mikee Johnson, CEO’s of private companies. The State Department’s ethics officials need to verify that the relationships are indeed of a personal nature.
Communication Director of CREW Jordon Libowitz told Salon that while it would be presumptuous to link Haley’s resignation to the allegations made by CREW he noted that, "Haley is not leaving with a clean record. Back in 2017, she violated the Hatch Act."
Over a year ago, Hayley retweeted President Trump’s endorsement of a South Carolina congressional candidate which breaks the Hatch Act – a law that regulates campaigning by government officials.
While Haley called serving as UN ambassador "an honor of a lifetime," she said it was time to depart the administration and there is "no personal reason," according to CNN.
Haley has yet to respond to the allegations from CREW.