Nikki Haley’s Lavish New York City Digs Give Rise To A Faux Controversy

As part of her position as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has use of a rather lavish private residence. This is not a real controversy.

Nikki Haley’s job as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations comes with some pretty nice perks, including a home with a nice view of the New York City skyline, and some fairly expensive curtains:

WASHINGTON — The State Department spent $52,701 last year buying customized and mechanized curtains for the picture windows in Nikki R. Haley’s official residence as ambassador to the United Nations, just as the department was undergoing deep budget cuts and had frozen hiring.

The residence, in a new building on First Avenue, has spectacular views, and Ms. Haley is the first ambassador to live in it. For decades, her predecessors lived in the Waldorf Astoria hotel. But after the hotel was purchased by a Chinese insurance company with a murky ownership structure, the State Department decided in 2016 to find a new home for its top New York diplomat because of security concerns.

The government leased the apartment, just blocks from the delegation’s offices, with an option to buy, according to Patrick Kennedy, the top management official at the State Department during the Obama administration. The full-floor penthouse, with handsome hardwood floors covering large open spaces stretching nearly 6,000 square feet, was listedat $58,000 a month.

While ambassadors around the world are given residences, there are only two such residences in the United States — one for Ms. Haley and the other for her deputy.

Ms. Haley’s residence is particularly grand since it is used for official entertaining. But her deputy’s is also very nice, having served as the location for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s intimate steak dinner in May with Kim Yong-chol, North Korea’s top nuclear weapons negotiator. During the dinner, Mr. Pompeo used its sweeping views to point out various features of New York City’s skyline to the senior official from the world’s most reclusive country.

A spokesman for Ms. Haley said plans to buy the curtains were made in 2016, during the Obama administration. Ms. Haley had no say in the purchase, he said.

The curtains themselves cost $29,900, while the motors and hardware needed to open and close them automatically cost $22,801, according to the contracts. Installation took place from March to August of last year, during Ms. Haley’s tenure as ambassador.

Ms. Haley’s curtains are more expensive than the $31,000 dining room set purchased for the office of Ben Carson, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That purchase became so controversial that President Trump considered firing Mr. Carson, though the spending rules covering agency chiefs are different from those for ambassadors.

While Ms. Haley’s curtains were being ordered and installed, Rex W. Tillerson, the administration’s first secretary of state, had frozen hiring, pushed out many of the department’s most senior diplomats and proposed cutting the department’s budget by 31 percent. In embassies around the world, projects were eliminated, jobs were left unfilled and the delegation to last year’s United Nations General Assembly meeting was slashed.

No doubt, some will look at this as yet another example of government profligacy, and I suppose that a case could be made for this. However, the fact of the matter is that the Ambassador to the United Nations needs someplace to live and the realistic choices for such a living space are going to be governed by concerns that tend to increase costs. The primary concern, of course, is security, which obviously adds to the cost of any location that the State Department might have chosen. Security is also a good explanation for why the apartment needs the automatically closing curtains in the event of any airborne security threat. Additionally, as noted, the official residence is used for entertaining guests, which includes dignitaries such as United Nations officials, other Ambassadors, as well as Heads of State and other foreign officials. This requires at least some degree of elegance since you can’t exactly take these people to McDonald’s or the local Ray’s Pizza. Finally, the fact that the plan is for this location to be used as the official residence for the Ambassador to the United Nations for the foreseeable future seems to me to be sufficient justification for the costs involved here. This is especially true once you consider that the total cost of this residence constitutes a minuscule part of the State Department budget and an even smaller part of the overall Federal Budget.

On a final note, it should be noted that the decision to purchase the apartment that Haley now lives at was made well before she became Ambassador to the United Nations. As noted above, the American Ambassador to the United Nations had traditionally lived at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, however in 2016 when President Obama was still in office the decision was made to move the residence due to the fact that the hotel had been bought out by a Chinese company that has a somewhat mysterious ownership structure that may include links to the Chinese government. This raised some rather obvious security concerns, of course, and appears to have been the primary reason to purchase the apartment where Haley lives while in New York City. It also appears that the purchase of the curtains was approved back then as well, or that at the very least it was not something that Haley played a role in approving. Given all this, this appears to be much ado about nothing notwithstanding the efforts of some on the left to turn this into a story.

Update: The New York Times has attached the following Editors Note to the original report:

An earlier version of this article and headline created an unfair impression about who was responsible for the purchase in question. While Nikki R. Haley is the current ambassador to the United Nations, the decision on leasing the ambassador’s residence and purchasing the curtains was made during the Obama administration, according to current and former officials. The article should not have focused on Ms. Haley, nor should a picture of her have been used. The article and headline have now been edited to reflect those concerns, and the picture has been removed.

Given the fact that the original headline made it appear as if Haley had been involved in the purchase of the residence or the procurement of the curtains, both of which occurred during the Obama Administration, this note was more than appropriate. In reality, though, this is something that should have been caught in the editoral process to begin with.

FILED UNDER: National Security, United Nations, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. grumpy realist says:

    6,000 square ft? First reaction: “but who will do the dusting?”

    (I had to take care of the sprawling family house after my parents’ death and let’s just say based on that experience there’s no way you’re going to get me out of my less-than-900-sq-ft apartment.)

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  2. John430 says:

    The NYT article carefully edits the fact that the Waldorf rent for the UN Ambassador’s suite was $135K per month and the new residence is a bargain-priced $58K per month.

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  3. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @John430:

    Source please …

    There is one, repeat ONE apartment in the Waldorf which rents for $135k per month, and it is NOT the one that the UN ambassador previously occupied.

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  4. Kathy says:

    On other news, Manafort just flipped.

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  5. Gustopher says:

    Security is also a good explanation for why the apartment needs the automatically closing curtains in the event of any airborne security threat.

    What are those curtains made of?

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    I’m not a huge Haley fan, and being a Trump official she is obviously suspect, but I had pretty much the same action as Doug when reading the original article.

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  7. James Pearce says:

    Given all this, this appears to be much ado about nothing notwithstanding the efforts of some on the left to turn this into a story.

    This kind of thing –the left dishonestly pumping a story for outrage value– has been happening more and more. Have we learned the wrong lessons from Fox News?

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy:

    On other news, Manafort just flipped.

    I suspect that Manafort will very, very shortly get a pardon from Trump and he’ll walk away from the deal. But it might start a flood of people looking to flip now when they still have something worthwhile to offer.

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  9. MarkedMan says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Thanks for that info. Of course, it won’t mean anything to convince John430 or any other Trumper as they don’t view facts, truth or even objective reality as having any value. I’m sure he will continue to spout his nonsense despite being shown to be wrong.

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  10. Joe says:

    @MarkedMan:

    But doesn’t that make John430‘s point that the Obama administration made a great move?

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  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Joe:

    That strategic thinking thing has never been their strong point.

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  12. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce: I’m not sure the left has been pumping this that much. I get most of my news from left wing blogs, and this is the first I heard of it.

    On the surface, the expenses seem extravagant. So, in an administration that has had massive abuse in the past, it makes sense to look into things.

    But, I don’t think the left has time to pump nothing stories when there are so many stories of corruption and incompetence that are real.

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  13. Franklin says:

    Well I’m not in the market for new curtains (much less mechanized ones), but the price doesn’t seem totally unreasonably given the amount of space and presumably large window area. Regardless, it has nothing to do with Haley herself. As Doug points out, at worst it’s an example of government profligacy (in which case the Party of Fiscal Responsibility (TM) should be outraged).

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  14. John430 says:

    @HarvardLaw92: see: https://streeteasy.com/blog/nikki-haley-at-un-plaza-not-waldorf-astoria-tradition/ It is a NYC overview of NYC rentals. Sorry if it doesn’t fit your narrative. But, then again, most facts do not. The Waldorf also became untenable after a shadowy Chinese conglomerate bought it and the possibility of Chinese eavesdropping became an issue.

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  15. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @John430:

    Yea, see, I actually lived in NY. That apartment you’re referring to was on the rental market for $135k per month IN 2011.

    Now, I can see wanting to get a jump on getting it leased to new tenants, but 4 years before you’re even aware that they’re leaving seems excessive, wouldn’t you agree? They must have one hell of a crystal ball …

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  16. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m not sure the left has been pumping this that much. I get most of my news from left wing blogs, and this is the first I heard of it.

    Remember when McCabe was going to lose his retirement?

    The partisan media is, for the most part, just terrible.

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