Former US envoy to UN says top Trump aides tried to subvert him

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Then-US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as then-UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during an event in New York on September 18, 2017

Then-US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as then-UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during an event in New York on September 18, 2017 (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Washington (AFP) - Two top advisers to President Donald Trump ignored or undermined him because "they were trying to save the country," former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley writes in a new book.

She says both then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House chief of staff John Kelly sought her help in undercutting or working around Trump but she refused, according to the Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the book, "With All Due Respect," ahead of its Tuesday release.

"Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the president, they weren't being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country," she 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."

She said Tillerson told her people would die if Trump was not restrained.

- Barely speaking -

Haley, a former South Carolina governor of Indian descent, left the UN job at the end of 2018 on good terms with Trump. She has often been touted as a potential future Republican presidential candidate.

Kelly left the White House a few weeks after Haley, reportedly barely on speaking terms with Trump; the president had fired Tillerson -- via Twitter -- in March 2018, after the two had repeatedly clashed.

In the book, Haley supports many of the Trump foreign policy decisions that others in the administration opposed, including the unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement, as well as the decision to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But Haley also pointed to several disagreements with the president: over his embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met in Helsinki in 2017, and over Trump's "moral equivalence" in suggesting there were good people on "both sides" after the deadly white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"The president's words had been hurtful and dangerous," she wrote, according to the Post.

In a CBS interview on Sunday, Haley also said it was "not appropriate" for Trump to have said that four Democratic members of Congress, all women of color, should "go back" to their countries. All are US citizens.

- 'Guilty as charged' -

But while she did not always agree with Trump, Haley said people like Kelly and Tillerson had an obligation either to carry out his agenda or, if they could not do so, to quit.

"I just couldn't get my arms around the fact that here you have two key people in an administration undermining the president," she said.

In an interview with the Post in her publisher's New York office, Haley dismissed House Democrats' moves to impeach Trump over his pressure on the Ukrainian government to obtain political dirt on an opponent.

"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."

The Post said Tillerson did not respond to a request for comment.

Kelly, for his part, 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."

Haley's memoir will be released a week before another, more critical, book by a White House insider -- "A Warning," written by an anonymous author described only as "a senior official in the Trump administration."

The Post, which also obtained an advance copy of that book, said it "paints a chilling portrait of the president as cruel, inept and a danger to the nation."

But early reviews say the book does not break much new ground about the president.