Rumors circulated for months that President Donald Trump was poised to fire his secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, before he finally did so in March. The same was true of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, whom Trump ultimately dismissed later that same month. And Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin hung by a thread for weeks before the president fired him in a tweet.
United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley flipped the script on Tuesday, working closely with the president on a resignation announcement that was kept secret from most White House aides. The move allowed the president to maintain control of the news cycle — and allowed Haley to leave on good terms with the temperamental commander in chief.
In the Oval Office, with Haley by his side, Trump told reporters that Haley had notified him six months ago that she was likely to depart at the end of the year. “She said, ‘You know, maybe at the end of the year … I want to take a little break,” Trump said. “So, Nikki, I just wanted to tell you that we will miss you.”
It was a far cry from the unceremonious defenestrations that the president has bestowed on other members of his Cabinet. In fact, the president spent nearly 30 minutes heaping praise on Haley, telling the news media that she has been “very special to me.”
While several White House aides said they were shocked both by Haley’s resignation, as well as the timing of the announcement — a month before November’s midterm elections — two people familiar with her thinking said she did not want her departure to appear to be a response to Republican losses in the midterms, should they happen.
Nor did she want her exit to seem to be propelled by the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is expected to conclude in the new year, or by any other negative event.