State Department Spent $52,700 On Curtains For UN Ambassador Residence

The New York Times walked back its story highlighting current U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley after the State Department said she wasn’t involved in the purchase.

The New York Times reported that the State Department spent $52,701 last year on motorized curtains for the official residence of the ambassador to the United Nations, but the newspaper amended its article on Friday after it said the report created an “unfair impression” of current U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley

At a time when the department was cutting its budget and freezing hiring, it purchased window coverings for the government residence in Manhattan including $29,900 for curtains and $22,801 for “electrical hardware and supplies” to open and close them automatically, according to the contract, first reported by the Times.

The Times’ original report indicated that the State Department spent the money specifically for Haley, but on Friday the newspaper walked back on the article, adding an editors’ note that said:

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 curtains were installed in the First Avenue penthouse from March to August last year, but plans for the purchase were made in 2016, during the Obama administration, a State Department spokesman told the Times, who emphasized that Ambassador Haley had nothing to do with the decision.

While the curtains were being purchased and installed, Rex W. Tillerson, President Donald Trump’s first secretary of state, had imposed a hiring freeze, cut the department’s budget by 31 percent and was pushing out senior diplomats.

“How can you, on the one hand, tell diplomats that basic needs cannot be met and, on the other hand, spend more than $50,000 on a customized curtain system for the ambassador to the U.N.?” Brett Bruen, a White House official in the Obama administration, asked in the Times article.

Patrick Kennedy, a top management official at the State Department during the Obama administration, defended the curtains. He told the Times the window coverings “would probably be used for years” and were needed for security and entertainment purposes. 

Haley is the first U.N. ambassador to live in the official residence. Her predecessors stayed in the Waldorf Astoria hotel, but the State Department decided in 2016 to relocate the ambassador due to security concerns. The nearly 6,000-square-foot apartment was previously listed for rent at $58,000 a month, according to the Times.

The headline of this story has been amended to reflect updates to the New York Times article clarifying when and for whom the curtains were ordered.