U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley resigned Tuesday in a meeting with President Trump, a surprise departure that will take place at the end of the year.
Mr. Trump told reporters that he accepted Mrs. Haley’s resignation because she wanted to take some time off. Mrs. Haley has been a foreign policy star of the administration, leading the president’s charge in confronting Iran, North Korea and other hostile nations.
“She’s done a fantastic job, and we’ve done a fantastic job together,” Mr. Trump said in an Oval Office meeting with Mrs. Haley. He called her a “friend” several times and made clear that she is leaving on good terms.
“She told me probably six months ago, ‘You know, maybe at end of the year — at the end of the two-year period — but by the end of the year I want to take a little time off, I want to take a break,’” he said.
The president said Mrs. Haley is “very special to me” and that together they have “solved a lot of problems.” Mr. Trump said he expects to nominate a successor within two or three weeks. Among those mentioned as potential successors are former national security aide Dina Powell and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell.
Mrs. Haley refuted speculation that she might seek the presidency in two years, saying she will campaign for Mr. Trump’s re-election.
“No, I am not running in 2020,” she said.
She said that after serving six years as governor of South Carolina and nearly two years at the United Nations, she felt it was time to turn over the reins to someone else.
“It’s been eight years of intense time, and I’m a believer in term limits,” Mrs. Haley said. “It’s just very important for government officials to understand when it’s time to step aside.”
She said the U.N. post was the honor of a lifetime and that she wasn’t sure what she will do next. She submitted her resignation letter on Oct. 3.
Mrs. Haley, 46, cited several administration accomplishments at the U.N., including sanctions against North Korea, cutting the U.N. budget and defying “anti-Israel bias” by moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“Look at what has happened in two years with the United States on foreign policy,” she said. “They respect what we do. They get that the president means business, and they follow through on that. All of those things have made a huge difference in the U.S. standing.”
It’s unusual for a high-profile member of the president’s team to depart just before midterm elections. Mrs. Haley’s role had been somewhat diminished in recent months with the strong emergence of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, who once served as a U.N. ambassador.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Mrs. Haley’s tenure at the United Nations “will be remembered for her proud reassertion of American moral leadership and her fearless willingness to turn a bright spotlight on critical challenges, from Israel’s sovereignty to Iran’s sponsorship of regional violence.”
“I hope this is not the end of Ambassador Haley’s distinguished career in public service,” he said.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, called Mrs. Haley “a clear, consistent and powerful voice for America’s interests and democratic principles on the world stage.”
“She challenged friend and foe to be better,” Mr. Ryan tweeted. “I am saddened that she is leaving the administration, but so grateful for her service. Thank you, Nikki.”
Mr. Trump accepted Mrs. Haley’s resignation hours after a government watchdog group in Washington began calling for a federal investigation into Mrs. Haley’s use of private planes owned by three South Carolina businessmen.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has accused Mrs. Haley of undervaluing the flights by tens of thousands of dollars on financial disclosure forms required by the State Department.
The group says the flights create the impression of impermissible gifts to a public official, although it notes that Mrs. Haley said on her financial disclosure forms that the businessmen are all personal friends — exempt from federal rules about accepting flights on private planes.
In a letter sent Monday to the State Department inspector general’s office, the watchdog group claimed specifically that Mrs. Haley accepted four flights on a private aircraft owned by Jimmy Gibbs, president and chief executive of Gibbs International.
A copy of the letter posted on the website of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington also claims Mrs. Haley accepted flights from Smyth McKissick and Mikee Johnson, two other heads of private companies in South Carolina.
The letter insinuates that Mrs. Haley peddled her status as a top Trump administration official to lure the businessmen into paying for the flights.
“Though much of Ambassador Haley’s work at the United Nations may not directly affect her benefactors’ business interests, she recently published an opinion piece regarding her ‘very open access to the president’ and the ‘ample opportunity’ she enjoys ‘to try to persuade the president to change course,’ ” the watchdog group wrote.