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Watchdog wants investigation of Nikki Haley's private jet flights to SC

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Haley at UN (copy) (copy)

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. File 

COLUMBIA — A federal government watchdog asked the State Department on Monday to investigate whether U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley broke any regulations by accepting seven flights on private jets from three South Carolina executives last year.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, also questioned how Haley values the flights on "luxury private aircraft," most of which also included her husband, Michael.

The former South Carolina governor based the cost on first-class commercial airline tickets for the flights from New York to three South Carolina cities. Her total was $3,219.

But the four flights Haley took on a plane belonging to Jimmy Gibbs, chief executive of Gibbs International in Spartanburg, were alone worth up to $24,000 based on publicly reported operating costs of a private jet, CREW said.

"Ambassador Haley should have been conscious of the appearance concerns surrounding her acceptance of gifts of private luxury air travel at a time when her colleagues in the administration were making news with their own lavish air travel," CREW wrote.

The watchdog cited examples that involved administration officials charging taxpayers for personal flights, something Haley is not accused of.

Haley claimed permissible exemptions on the flights from the executives, all of whom contributed to her governor campaigns, because they are friends, according to her financial disclosure form.

Her office did not respond to an email Monday seeking comment.

CREW asked the State Department inspector general to examine whether her friends' businesses paid for all or some of the flight costs and if the companies or executives could benefit from Haley's role at the United Nations or her position in the Trump administration.

The watchdog said Haley could have turned down the flights to avoid any appearance of conflict.

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"In any event, whether or not the (personal) exception applied, it appears Ambassador Haley failed to live up to the ethical values expressed in the regulations," CREW wrote.

Gibbs paid for flights from New York to Greenville and Charleston, according to Haley's financial disclosure.

Mikee Johnson, a former high school classmate of Haley from Orangeburg who recently sold his family's lumber business, provided a roundtrip flight from New York to Aiken in August 2017.

Smyth McKissick, chief executive of Alice Manufacturing in Easley and chairman of the Clemson University board, flew the Haleys from New York to Greenville in November 2017, according to her financial disclosure.

CREW questioned Haley's friendship with the executives.

"The gift of luxury air travel appears more consistent with political or professional relationships than personal ones, particularly given that Ambassador Haley’s financial disclosure report suggests she lacks the means to reciprocate with gifts of comparable value," CREW said.

Gibbs, Johnson and McKissick did not return calls Monday.

A State Department spokeswoman referred questions to the United Nations.

CREW has called for a check on Haley before under the Hatch Act. After CREW complained about Haley for retweeting President Donald Trump's congratulation to U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman on his special election victory two years ago, she received a warning from the Office of Special Counsel and took down the retweet.

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