All eyes should be on Nikki Haley
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On the heels of much acclaimed U.S. diplomatic success in persuading China to vote on a Security Council resolution tightening sanctions on North Korea, “TeamHaley,” as U.N. Ambassador Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyIn midst of political violence, America greatly needs unity Trump prefers woman for UN post, interviewing 5 candidates Mary Kissel expected to join State Department MORE calls them in frequent tweets, is shrinking.

While some took other posts and others just seemed to evaporate, losing four senior staff including three senior spokespeople in a month raises not only the “pushed or jumped” question, but where the charismatic former South Carolina governor is taking her mission.

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Understandably, Michele Sison, a seasoned diplomat and Haley’s deputy ambassador and stand-in at less dramatic Security Council meetings, accepted an appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. On its face her departure makes sense and is a plus to Sison, who started her State Department career in Haiti.

But when a report surfaced on Twitter late Wednesday that her chief of staff, Steven Groves, and director of communications, Jonathan Wachtel, might also be leaving the exodus seemed to have larger implications.

Several reports then revealed that Kurtis Cooper, former Ambassador Samantha PowerSamantha Jane PowerThe Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump Trump administration begins denying visas to some same-sex partners of foreign diplomats: report New Zealand prime minister becomes first female world leader to bring baby to UN MORE’s spokesperson at the Mission, left this week to go to UNICEF.

The Wachtel departure and its timing raised the most intrigue, even though his explanation for resigning came directly from him. With a young child at home, Wachtel appears to have been stretched too thin. Nonetheless, the blogosphere was all a-Twitter.

Since starting his work at the U.N. at the beginning of this year, Wachtel has managed to engender the confidence of the ambassador while having credibility with reporters and putting out collateral fires that spontaneously combust when a presidential tweet contradicts Trump’s U.N. ambassador.

In a telephone conversation and subsequent text with me after the report surfaced, Wachtel shared the following observation:

I am stepping down. Family reasons. Ambassador Haley and I get along. It is unfortunate that some in the press have decided to make my personal decision an issue. I am grateful to those in the press who have been respectful about my decision and I am disappointed by those who chose to make a spectacle out of my choice.”

After the overnight Twitter-storm, Haley tweeted, “Both Jonathan and Steve have recently encountered family concerns. They will always be a part of the team & dear friends.”

Standing by her side on Wednesday, Wachtel has already weathered many storms with Haley. Wachtel has been Haley’s communications director since January, after having founded and managed Fox News’ United Nations operation. He spent a decade in London and Moscow with ABC News and Worldwide Television News.

As for the departure of Steven Groves, Haley’s chief of staff, who had important input into Haley’s policies, and hailed from the Trump-friendly Heritage Foundation, he was a supporter of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, which the ambassador endorsed.

Haley, who has wowed some key foreign ambassadors whom she knew from entertaining foreign trade missions as South Carolina governor, has not always been lock-step with Trump. On Tuesday, in an appearance on “Fox and Friends” she criticized what she averred was a leak of classified information about U.S. intelligence concerning North Korea’s military activity, calling it a “shame” and “dangerous,” seemingly unaware of a tweet by the president on Tuesday morning promoting the story.

Social media sites, including many of the U.N. press corps and some policy observers, speculated that Haley’s deputy, Republican pollster and GOP consultant Jon Lerner, who helped in the coordination of the anti-Trump message as a supporter of Senator Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Meghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family The Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump MORE during the primary campaign, now has her ear.

Another rising star and important advisor, who has become more significant in the ranks of Haley advisors is David Glaccum, Haley's former deputy chief of staff in South Carolina, and he is almost always at her side at the U.N.

Glaccum is the former chief counsel to Senator Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLawmakers point fingers at Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi's death The Memo: Trump in a corner on Saudi Arabia Trump should stick to his guns and close failed South Carolina nuclear MOX project MORE and plays an advisory role for politics and for policy, a U.S. Mission aide said.

Haley’s policy comments at the Council on Foreign Relations in March drew attention because they too appeared to differ from the president’s policy pronouncements. CFR’s President Richard Haass, former White house aide in both Democrat and Republican White House administrations asked Haley if she was “out on a limb” in her enthusiastic support for the United Nations. Her answer: “The president’s going to make the decisions he’s going to make.”

What is not so clear, and is the focus of social media speculation, is whether the decision about Groves and Wachtel has been made by Haley to ease out some of her trusted aides, or if this is the normal turnover after six months in office.

Haley is increasingly visible because of her high profile — which is not usual for the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. — because of speculation about her ambitions for higher office.

Haley’s term in office has been marked by several flagship issues: support for Israel, condemnation of Iran and North Korea and making human rights a centerpiece of the U.N. Security Council.

Haley will also be front and center in September when Trump takes the stage at the U.N. General Assembly address where hundreds of countries and thousands of diplomats and reporters from around the world gather to showboat and hobnob, and when he will have his first foray into the spotlight with dozens of presidents, prime ministers, and sheikhs. The focus will be as much about the prestige and place of the U.S. in world as about specific policy announcements.

Until then, the U.S. and the world will stay fixated on the sobering threat of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea. Haley heads to Vienna later this month to meet with International Atomic Energy Agency officials about Iran’s nuclear program. Given the gravity of these issues, who’s on first in the U.N. Mission New York offices seems a bit inside baseball. Regardless of changes in her staff, Haley is a diplomat and politician to watch.

Pamela Falk is a U.N. resident correspondent and CBS News TV & Radio foreign affairs analyst and is former staff director of a subcommittee of the House of Representatives. She holds a J.D. from Columbia School of Law. She can be reached at @PamelaFalk.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the words of The Hill.