Watchdog calls for investigation into Haley flights

Watchdog calls for investigation into Haley flights
© Greg Nash

A government watchdog group on Monday called for an investigation into whether U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyPollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump blocked renomination of Obama-era UN racism official, won't pick a replacement: report Trump says he considered nominating Ivanka to lead World Bank MORE violated federal ethics regulations by accepting flights on private planes.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter formally requesting the State Department’s inspector general investigate the flights, which Haley acknowledged in her 2017 public financial disclosure report. 

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The seven free flights were between New York, Washington, D.C., and three cities in the former governor's home state of South Carolina.

CREW wrote in a statement that the total value of the flights in unknown but estimates they were worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Federal ethics regulations ban employees from soliciting or accepting gifts because of their official positions, and Haley asserted on her financial disclosure report that she was personal friends with the three South Carolina businessmen involved. 

The watchdog group called for the State Department inspector general to determine whether the personal relationship exemption is applicable for Haley’s flights.

CREW wrote in its request that the men are executives at various companies and all appear to have made contributions to Haley's gubernatorial campaigns in South Carolina.

“In this case, Ambassador Haley’s relationships with these individuals appear to have significant political and professional components,” CREW alleges.

Haley did not indicate on her report whether the men's companies either owned or leased the aircrafts she flew on or if the companies at all contributed to the cost, CREW wrote.

While Haley’s work at the United Nations might not directly link to her donor’s business interests, CREW alleges that her close access with President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report MORE “makes her a valuable contact for anyone affected by his administration’s policies.”

The Hill has reached out to the State Department and the White House for comment.

CREW pointed out that several members of the Trump administration have been criticized for their use of luxury or government air travel at the taxpayer’s expense.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceOvernight Health Care: CEO of largest private health insurer slams 'Medicare for All' plans | Dem bill targets youth tobacco use | CVS fined over fake painkiller prescriptions | Trump, first lady to discuss opioid crisis at summit HHS inspector general stepping down from watchdog role Ex-GOP lawmaker Handel to run for her former Georgia seat in 2020 MORE resigned in September 2017 after public uproar over his use of private jets for official business. 

And former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittWe're not effectively protecting Americans from measles, air pollution or food poisoning The problem for Trump appointees Dems probing whether EPA officials violated ethics rules MORE was also criticized for spending more than $105,000 on first-class airline travel in his first year on the job. 

His spending was one of the many high-profile controversies that led up to his resignation from the agency in July.

CREW wrote in its request that Haley should have been more “conscious of the appearance concerns” surrounding her acceptance of private air travel since her colleagues at the administration were making their own headlines. 

“By accepting gifts of luxury private flights, Ambassador Haley seems to be falling in line with other Trump administration officials who are reaping personal benefits from their public positions,” CREW's executive director, Noah Bookbinder, said in a statement. “Our ethics laws are clearly written to prevent even the appearance of corruption and improper influence.”

“We’re calling on the State Department’s inspector general to further investigate the nature of these gifts, determine whether they are in line with ethics rules, and ensure that employees like Ambassador Haley are fully trained on the application and importance of ethical standards,” Bookbinder continued.