Just days before she resigned as UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley delivered a private speech to the Council for National Policy, a secretive group of influential right-wing figures. Journalist Max Blumenthal obtained exclusive access and reveals shocking details — including Haley’s admission that she threatened the Chinese ambassador with a US invasion of North Korea.
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté.
Earlier this month the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley made a surprising announcement that she plans to resign at the end of the year.
NIKKI HALEY: Look at what has happened in two years with the United States on foreign policy. Now the United States is respected. Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do. They know that if we say we’re going to do something, we follow it through. And the President proved that, whether it was with the chemical weapons in Syria, whether it’s with NATO, saying that other countries have to pay their share. Of it whether it’s the trade deals which have been amazing. They get that the president means business, and they follow through with that.
AARON MATE: Haley’s decision has fueled speculation about her political future. Well, an exclusive new report offers a window into Haley’s time in the administration, and where she might be headed next. The journalist Max Blumenthal obtained exclusive access to a gathering of the Council for National Policy, a secretive group of influential right-wing figures. Haley addressed the CNP’s gathering just days before she stepped down. Max Blumenthal’s report for Harper’s Magazine is called Nikki Haley at the Council for National Policy, and Max joins me now. He’s senior editor for The Grayzone Project, and a bestselling author.
Max, welcome. First of all, before we get into some of what Haley said, which you reported on, which is quite extraordinary, talk about this gathering and how you got in.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, the Council for National Policy was founded in 1981, at the dawn of the Christian right and the beginning of the Reagan era. And it really represents what Jerry Falwell, an early founding member, called the big guns of the Christian right, who set the battle lines; 300 people who really comprise the entire leadership of the Christian right, and the conservative movement in general. These people kind of call themselves ‘grasstops’ leaders. You know, they kind of shepherd the Republican grassroots to the polls on Election Day. But they also kind of decide what the wedge issues are going to be and what the narrative is for the party. They have anointed the past two Republican presidents; Donald Trump back in 2015, and George W. Bush back in 1999, when they were just emerging as the figures that the Christian right would back. They also helped make Sarah Palin John McCain’s vice presidential pick.
So you know, Nikki Haley coming to this gathering, I thought, was pretty significant. I didn’t know that she was going to resign five days later. But I was there, and I had a chance to go. Basically, I don’t- I think that no reporter, especially progressive reporter, has managed- I mean, actually, maybe one or two over the last 30 years or so, or since this group was founded, have managed to get in. I don’t think any progressive independent reporter has managed to get into the Council for National Policy.
They hold these meetings three times a year, in secrecy. The location of the meeting is not told to anyone who isn’t a member of the group. The membership rolls aren’t provided outside of the membership’s inner circle. And these are closed door meetings, press is not allowed. I knew someone who was a CFP member who is an antiwar conservative, so they shared some foreign policy views with me and were sympathetic to my writing on Israel-Palestine, and said yeah, there’s a CMP gathering coming up that’s going to be heavily focused on foreign policy. And I said, is there any way you can get me in? They said, yeah, I mean, I’d invite you. It would be interesting to have you kind of interact with the membership there and challenge their views on Israel. I said, all right, what do I have to do?
You know, we put in an application. I didn’t hide anything about myself. I put forward my Real News biography, my Real News bio. You know, I run this anti-empire journal. And you know, there’s, like, nothing hidden at all. My name should have been well-known to the Council for National Policy because I’ve written about its members in my book Republican Gomorrah, and about its president Tony Perkins, who’s the head of the leading policy factory of the anti-gay and anti-abortion movement in Washington, the Family Research Council. But for some reason they approved my application to attend as a guest, and simply asked me for $675 as a donation. And it appeared that they were just so hungry for donations and to fill up their coffers- they operate as a nonprofit and as a 501c4 political action committee- that they didn’t really care who was coming.
And then I flew down to Charlotte. The conference is being held in Charlotte, North Carolina, according to the CNP, the council, to stand in solidarity with the Republican-controlled Carolina legislature that had overruled a Charlotte City Council resolution that would have forced businesses to provide gender neutral bathrooms. So basically, the location of the conference was determined by the anti-gay politics of the council.
And I went to the Westin Hotel in Charlotte, and walked into the auditorium, or this giant ballroom. Ginni Thomas, the wife of Clarence Thomas, walked by me. Frank Gaffney, you know, the kind of foreign policy hawk who inspired Donald Trump’s Muslim ban brushed shoulders and sat sat nearby. And I was surrounded by basically the vast right-wing conspiracy, about 300 people settling into their chairs to hear Nikki Haley speak at noon.
AARON MATE: You know, Max, it’s interesting. You mentioned your book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. It came out in 2009. It was sort of the definitive book on how the far right took over the Republican Party. And here you are then now a decade later, inside the movement once again at one of their most secretive gatherings. And especially timely, because Nikki Haley steps down just days later. And you broke some news here, because one of the things that Haley said which you report on is that Haley made a threat to the Chinese ambassador to the UN about a possible U.S. military invasion of North Korea. Can you explain?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, Nikki Haley was extremely candid. I mean, she was told there’d be no media in the room. And beyond that, we now- I mean, looking back at this event, it’s clear that she was auditioning for the support of the most powerful grassroots constituency in the Republican Party in expectation of a future presidential run.
I mean, that seems pretty clear where she’s going now. And so she was really boasting of what a hawk she was. She talked about how she had been asked, recruited by Donald Trump. First Reince Priebus, who was the head of Trump’s transition team, asked her to be secretary of state, which I found kind of staggering. She had no diplomatic experience at all, and she said, I think you need someone with less of a learning curve, basically confessing her total ignorance.
And then Trump comes back to her with another author offer to be U.S. ambassador to the UN. And she said, honestly, I don’t even know what the UN does, to Trump. And this provoked a lot of laughter among the crowd. I was kind of staggered that she would be so boastful about her own ignorance about how these international institutions work. But the crowd has nothing but disdain for the UN.
And so she becomes UN ambassador. She has a steep learning curve, as she admitted. And so she seeks out Henry Kissinger as a mentor, and she said that she meets with him every two months. And while she didn’t say so explicitly the story, she told next, kind of indicated that she had embraced and deployed a version of Henry Kissinger’s madman theory back in 2017 to force North Korea to the negotiating table, and to gain the compliance of Russia and China, two permanent members of the UN Security Council, on a resolution to sanction North Korea for its missile tests. This is back in September 2017.
So Haley boasts to the crowd of the Council for National Policy that she told Russia, either you’re with the United States or you’re with North Korea. And then she went to the Chinese ambassador and said, you know, I don’t know what the president could do. He’s kind of unpredictable. He might do a military invasion if we don’t, you know, if you don’t do what we want here. I’m paraphrasing.
And again, I mean, my jaw dropped. And the crowd was absolutely thrilled by this story. But this is a perfect kind of distillation of Kissinger’s madman theory, which he concocted with Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War, which is to threaten other countries that the president is a lunatic, he’s kind of insane, and he might drop a nuclear weapon or do something crazy unless they acceded to American wishes. It’s a very dangerous theory. If this story’s true it’s really disturbing, because what could North Korea have done if they thought if the Chinese ambassador had told them that an American invasion could be imminent? What would they have, you know, launched missiles on Okinawa, or Hawaii, or Guam? I mean, who knows what could have happened? It Is a really disturbing moment that for Haley was a clear source of pride.
And I guess it’s not that out of the unusual, if you consider the rhetoric Trump was using at the time with fire and fury, or James Mattis threatening the destruction of the entire people of North Korea. But nevertheless, I found it really disturbing, and indicative of how dangerous Nikki Haley can be.
AARON MATE: Another source of pride for Haley that you note in your piece is when she talks about her record on Israel, getting the U.S. to leave the UN Human Rights Council, and blocking efforts at the UN to investigate and condemn the Israeli killings of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. What did you make of what you heard from her at this gathering when it comes to her stance, and the Trump administration’s stance on Israel?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, her speech before the Council for National Policy really highlights how she exploited the United Nations in her position there, to leverage her- to propel her ambitions, which apparently seemed to be leaning towards a presidential run.
So basically she’s already appealed strongly to the Likudnik oligarchs, who are top funders of the Republican Party, and specifically the Trump political machine. Sheldon Adelson and these characters have contributed to Nikki Haley’s 527 back in 2016. She got money from Adelson when she was South Carolina governor. Adelson also contributed something like $40 million to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. So she has, though, that constituency locked up. The Christian right also holds extremist views on Israel-Palestine. And her visit to the Council for National Policy, you know, was completely in line with her exploitation of the UN around the issue of Israel. So she spent, devoted a lot of her time on the speech to boasting about how she had withdrawn the United States from the UN Human Rights Council over the issue of Israel.
Then she boasted about her role, and she did play a really central role in this, in cutting off almost all U.S. funds to the United Nations Relief Works Agency, which is the agency in charge of basically keeping millions of Palestinian refugees alive. These are some of the most destitute and trapped people on earth. And Nikki Haley earned massive ovations for these boasts of her anti-Palestinian activity at the UN, as well as moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and really driving a nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.
You know, it was unknown to the media that Nikki Haley was at an event like this while she was serving as UN ambassador. She still was there. But she’s simultaneously serving on the Security Council, doing everything she can to strangle Palestinians. And at the same time she’s going to meetings of the Christian right in rooms filled with people who are are Armageddon end-timers, who see Jerusalem as a landing pad for Messiah, and bragging about withdrawing the U.S. from international institutions on behalf of Israel. I think that’s a fairly unprecedented and incredible dynamic.
AARON MATE: So let me ask you quickly, Max, what is not a precedent, and what really is actually a continuation of a bipartisan consensus? Because certainly, I mean, what you’ve revealed here is striking. Nikki Haley, the UN ambassador, speaking to this far-right gathering. But then when you look at the policies that she’s been carrying out, certainly the Trump administration has taken things in a really extreme direction. But in terms of what has not changed, I mean, certainly under the Obama administration, Samantha Power was blocking resolutions criticizing Israel, investigating Israel for war crimes, working to undermine efforts to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its genocidal war on Yemen. I mean, how much of the UN job that Nikki Haley is in right now is ultimately just a bipartisan position?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: No, I mean, I’m glad you brought that up or made that point. I mean, there’s a huge amount of continuity between the Obama and Trump administrations; not just on Israel-Palestine but on Asia.
I mean, it was Obama who pivoted to Asia. And you know, I had mentioned this kind of strategy of maximum pressure, and the madman theory that the Trump administration had applied to North Korea. That kind of fizzled out. Now there is some, you know, there’s some detente where Trump has forged, it appears to be kind of a personal bond with Kim Jong un, and there was a peace summit in Singapore. They just canceled a military drill with the South Korean military today. This is being greeted with contempt and anger by Obama administration foreign policy officials, and the foreign policy elite in Washington. The bipartisan consensus actually opposes that.
So the Trump administration, while there’s a lot of continuity around China, hostility to China has done something unexpected here. And Nikki Haley appears to kind of reflect more the bipartisan consensus in Washington than the sort of rogue- the elements that are being treated as rogue, including Trump himself, on North Korea. And that’s why I think when Nikki Haley announced her retirement she received so much favorable press from even the New York Times and The New Yorker. These bastions of anti-Trump liberalism that cast her as this kind of moderate who, you know, presents a hopeful sign that, you know, the Republican Party will return to its senses.
Then on Israel-Palestine, you know, it wasn’t just Samantha Power. It was her predecessor Susan Rice who are catering heavily to the Israel lobby in hopes of some kind of future position as secretary of state. I think where Haley diverges is on just throwing away the whole mask that the U.S. really required to- the kind of the patina around the special relationship with Israel. That there still was a peace process, that the U.S. was going to still participate in international institutions with Israel-Palestine. That’s all been just completely thrown away under Hayley’s watch, along with this war on Palestinian refugees, which could lead to destabilization across the Middle East, and even generals in the Israeli military are warning against.
I think what we’re seeing is just a heightening of the contradictions ofU.S. foreign policy under Haley, and her leveraging of her hardline views that she expressed at the U.N. to make way for a presidential run will really explode the contradictions. I think that will be the ultimate legacy of the Trump era, as just the explosion of all the contradictions of America as a liberal democracy.
AARON MATE: You know, Max, you mentioned these hopes for Haley to have been a moderating force on the Trump restriction. It’s interesting to compare your piece where you’re revealing that she speaks to this far-right group, speaking about threatening the Chinese ambassador and floating the possibility of a U.S. invasion North Korea. I mean, compare that to some of the headlines that greeted Haley’s announcement that she was leaving, like the New York Times editorial board saying Nikki Haley will be missed, and calling her a pragmatic envoy who can exit the administration with her dignity largely intact.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: She was pandering to a roomful of some of the biggest extremists in the U.S. And we hear very little about the Christian right these days under Trump. We hear a lot about the alt-right, which is far far less influential than the Christian right. The Christian right is completely supportive of Trump. I mean, in the room you had Father Frank Pavone cheering for Nikki Haley. Frank Pavone probably was one of the only Catholics in the room. He’s the head of Priests for Life, he’s an anti-abortion fanatic, who in 2016 took an actual aborted fetus that he had obtained and placed it on a prayer altar, and filmed himself with this aborted fetus urging his followers to vote for Trump. You know, one of the honored guests at the Council for National Policy who is on stage right after Nikki Haley, introduced by Ken Starr, Brett Kavanaugh’s mentor, was Jack Phillips, who is a baker from Colorado who had become famous among the Christian right because he refused to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple. And you know, he was introduced for this heroic act, and for homeschooling his children at the bakery.
I mean, this is the kind of scene that took place around Nikki Haley’s appearance, and this is who she went to pander to. And yet she’s being hailed as some kind of moderate. I mean, the president mentioned before, the president of the Council for National Policy, is really overseeing the factory of anti-gay and anti-abortion policy that’s made it almost impossible for women in certain states like Mississippi to get women’s health services- including abortion- but also all kinds of OBGYN care.
So why is she getting this reception? It’s completely because Trump has moved the parameters of political discourse so far to the right, and Nikki Haley has been able to position herself, along with George W. Bush, as the center. That’s really the tragedy. And I think that’s what my story exposes, is is the hypocrisy on how politics is covered, how figures like Nikki Haley are covered, who I think- you know, if she were president, I think she would be actually more outspoken on social issues like abortion and LGBT rights than Donald Trump currently is.
AARON MATE: We’ll leave it there. Max Blumenthal’s report for Harper’s is called Nikki Haley at the Council for National Policy. It’s available on the Harper’s website. Max Blumenthal is a bestselling author and senior editor of The Grayzone Project. Max, thank you.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks a lot, Aaron.
AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.