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Nikki Haley's private plane flights raise ethics questions, watchdog claims

| Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, 4:09 p.m.
President Trump meets with outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, in Washington.
President Trump meets with outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, in Washington.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A Washington, D.C., watchdog group wants a federal investigation into U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s use of private planes owned by South Carolina businessmen.

The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says Haley undervalued the flights by tens of thousands of dollars on her annual financial disclosure form required of federal officials.

The complaint was filed before Haley announced she was resigning as ambassador on Tuesday. Haley’s resignation is seemingly unrelated to the ethics complaint.

The ethics group says the flights create the impression of impermissible gifts to a public official. However, Haley said on her disclosure that the businessmen are all personal friends and thus exempt from federal rules about accepting flights on private planes.

“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,” the group’s executive director, Noah Bookbinder, said in a statement calling for the investigation Monday.

Last year, the former South Carolina governor and her husband, Michael, accepted four flights on a private aircraft owned by Jimmy Gibbs, president and chief executive of Gibbs International, the documents show.

The flights took the Haleys from her residence as ambassador in New York to Greenville and Charleston, from South Carolina to Washington, and from Washington back to New York.

Haley’s disclosure values the flights at a total of $1,754, an estimate based on the cost of a commercial flight. The ethics group says the cost of operating a private plane would be closer to $24,000 for all four flights. Even if Gibbs or another passenger also was on the flight, they estimate Haley’s share of the cost still would be more than $10,000.

Records show Haley also accepted flights from Smyth McKissick, the head of Alice Manufacturing Co., and longtime Haley friend Mikee Johnson, president and CEO of Cox Industries. Haley valued the costs of those flights at $704 and $761, respectively. The watchdog group also contends those estimates are too low.

Another complaint from the same group earned Haley a reprimand from federal ethics regulators last year, after she retweeted President Donald Trump’s endorsement of now-U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman in a special congressional election. Federal law prohibits political appointees, including Haley, from endorsing candidates for office.

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