Trump likes Powell for UN job — but she could face some resistance within the White House
By JOSH DAWSEY AND ASHLEY PARKER | The Washington Post | Published: October 10, 2018
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump spoke with Dina Powell on Wednesday about replacing Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and has told some advisers that the former White House aide is his preferred choice for the job, according to White House officials and other people familiar with the matter.
Powell, who served as deputy national security adviser and is now a senior executive at Goldman Sachs, is close with Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner — who both serve as senior White House aides — and has maintained friendly ties with the president after leaving the White House at the beginning of the year.
A senior official said Powell is currently one of two top candidates to replace Haley, but declined to name the other. Trump did not make a formal offer to Powell during the call Wednesday morning, the official said. The president also spoke with Powell once before the resignation of Haley was announced Tuesday.
While Powell remains a top choice for Trump, she could face some opposition internally. She is disliked by White House chief of staff John Kelly, who privately criticized her performance in the administration and deemed her a sharp-elbowed operator who did not follow his protocols, according to three West Wing officials. Powell also has differed with national security adviser John Boltonon some policy issues and has a less hawkish worldview.
"Amb. Bolton is supportive of any candidate for UN Ambassador who supports and will execute the President's agenda," National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said in an email.
When asked to comment on whether Powell is the front-runner for the U.N. job, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred to Trump's public comments.
"She's certainly being considered. She's done a great job, she was with us as you know for a long time," the president told reporters when he landed in Erie, Pennsylvania, Tuesday night for a campaign rally. "Been with me from the beginning. She's certainly excellent. But she's one of - we have four or five . . . that we're looking at very seriously. It'll be good. Nikki did a great job. We have four or five really great candidates."
With Trump, personnel moves are often fickle and based on impulse. While White House officials described Powell broadly as a leading candidate, it "could change on a dime," said the senior official, who like others interviewed for this story asked to speak on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Powell was seen by many moderate Republicans as a positive influence in the administration with a president who is often mercurial on foreign policy and prefers an isolationist approach - with less foreign aid and fewer foreign troops. She had close ties with Hill Republicans and a number of key officials and is personal friends with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, officials said. She was instrumental in the administration's national security strategy, a document that received positive reviews from many Republicans. Critics say the document is more aspirational for what aides wish Trump would embrace.
She is currently leading sovereign fund development for Goldman Sachs and knows a number of key world leaders.
Some Trump allies who do not like Powell because they consider her a "globalist" who doesn't support the populist agenda the president campaigned on are preparing opposition material against her to try to convince Trump to select someone else. A headline on Breitbart Wednesday portrayed her previous work at Goldman Sachs as a public relations effort to burnish the bank's reputation following the financial crisis that cratered the economy.
"Dina Powell's Global Foundation Helped Polish Goldman Sachs' Shattered Image," the headline read.
Some critics note that Powell is currently working with foreign governments on investment opportunities that may not align with the interests of the United States.
"Ms. Powell was deputy to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, the insubordinate subordinate who frequently subverted Mr. Trump and his agenda. She's a Goldman Sachs globalist," said Frank Gaffney, an anti-Islam activist with ties to Bolton.
Gaffney has for years come under criticism for labeling various government officials as tools of a global Islamist movement but without compelling evidence. There is no evidence that Powell is tied to any such group. He denied talking to Bolton specifically about the Wednesday statement, but said he has known Bolton for "40 years" and knows his ideology is not aligned with Powell's.
One person who knows Bolton well said that he is unlikely to actively oppose Powell, knowing that she is close with Kushner and Ivanka Trump and would not want to cross them on this.
Some conservatives with ties to Trump would prefer Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany, to replace Haley, but Trump has all but ruled him out of the job, White House officials said. On Tuesday, Trump told reporters that Grenell was not on his shortlist, in part because the president was so pleased with his work abroad.
"He is doing so well in a position that is so important," Trump said. "Ric is doing so well that I wouldn't want to move him. I'd personally rather keep Ric where he is."
The Washington Post's John Hudson, Anne Gearan and Robert Costa contributed to this report.