“I have a crush of calls within the last 30 minutes regarding
whether Darla Moore has been pulled from the USC board,” Haley’s
press secretary, Rob Godfrey, wrote to Haley and other staff
members on March 15. “Do we want to do anything besides confirm
this? Thank her for her service? Let me know.”
related letters, obtained by The State through a request for
public records from the governor’s office, show only a few weeks
after Haley took office in mid-January, she was considering
replacing Moore with Lexington attorney and campaign contributor
But when the decision was made and it became public, Haley’s
staff searched for days for an explanation they could sell.
It was the governor’s prerogative, they argued. Cofield
shared the governor’s vision. No one actually was removed from
the board. And, finally, Moore got the boot because she couldn’t
be bothered to return the governor’s call and set up a meeting
to discuss the board position in a timely manner.
“This whole thing has a real amateur feel about it,” said J.
David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University. “It
seems to be a bumbled thing from the very beginning.” Woodard
also sometimes consults for Republican political candidates, is
an adviser to Tea Party favorite U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.,
and last year was part of a Republican group that questioned
Nikki Haley’s qualifications to be governor.
The two-inch-thick stack of documents shows that, rather than
leave the explanation to her staff, Haley personally wrote some
responses and edited others, including one where she directed
her staff to refer to state Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, as
The documents show the governor’s office also tried, without
success, to get a reporter to alter her description of Cofield
and to get journalists at The State and The Associated Press to
report anonymously that Moore was replaced because the wealthy
financier was unresponsive to the governor’s efforts to speak
with her by telephone or meet with her.
The documents, however, offer no support for that assertion,
which Haley herself ultimately got into print through a
columnist for The Washington Post.
Rather than confirm that Haley tried unsuccessfully to meet
with Moore, the documents lay out a timeline that indicates
Cofield had been her choice weeks before she wrote Moore a
letter telling her that her successor had been chosen.
That letter, dated March 3 and included in the documents
provided to The State, marked an unceremonious and stunning end
to Moore’s 12-year tenure on the board.
It simply stated: “On behalf of the people of South Carolina,
I want to thank you for your service as a member of the
University of South Carolina Board of Trustees. However, today I
am appointing your successor. This new appointment will be
effectively immediately. My very best, Nikki R. Haley.”
Woodard said he is shocked Haley dismissed a donor who had
pledged to give $80 million to the state’s public universities
“That’s just terrible,” said Woodard, a sometimes consults
for Republican political candidates, an adviser to Tea Party
godfather U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-Greenville, and, last year,
part of a Republican group that questioned Haley’s
qualifications to be governor. “It’s dumbfounding. What this
looks like is they’re not ready for prime time.”
‘Fine with me, clean broom’
The Moore decision was one of the first from the new governor
to generate an intense public backlash.
The documents offer an inside look at how the governor’s
office handled what became the hottest of political hot
They also underscore the tense relationship Haley’s
administration has with some journalists who cover it, and they
show how the governor’s office tested a couple of different
messages on why Moore was removed – one of which was to blame
the media for “erroneously” reporting that Moore had been
Instead, Trey Walker, the governor’s deputy chief of staff,
suggested saying there was a vacancy on the board — Moore’s
position — that Haley merely filled it, as was her
“prerogative.” Walker tested that response on a handful of
Republican lawmakers, who responded positively. “Fine with me,
clean broom,’ said one.
New S.C. governors do have the authority to appoint new
members to USC’s board. But the notion that Moore’s spot on the
board was vacant was contradicted by the March 15 email from the
governor’s spokesman, Godfrey, saying, “Darla Moore has been
pulled from the USC board.”
Moore had been quietly replaced by Cofield, who had given
$4,500 to Haley’s campaign.
When an AP reporter described Cofield as a political
contributor early in her story, Godfrey asked her to alter that
description to have him described first as “a Lexington
businessman and attorney and not simply a campaign donor.” The
AP reporter declined Godfrey’s request.
Press secretaries often try to shape media coverage,
including suggesting to reporters the most accurate way to
describe an administration’s actions or appointees. It’s part of
the job. But the documents show that Godfrey’s style is often
combative or dismissive.
He told a television reporter who had asked about the Moore
decision that it “sounds like you’ve already written your story
long before you talk to anyone in our office, which is a real
‘Something has come up’
As the furor over the decision persisted, Washington Post
columnist Kathleen Parker reported Haley said Moore was replaced
because she did not return the governor’s telephone calls or
agree to meet with her in a timely manner.
It was a characterization that would have cast the governor’s
decision in a new light. If the super-rich Moore couldn’t be
bothered to discuss the board position with the state’s chief
executive, why should she retain that position?
But the Haley administration offered no evidence — in the
released emails and letters — of any communication with Moore
before March 9, after Cofield had been promised the job and
Haley had written Moore, a letter the Lake City native
apparently had not received yet.
On March 9, a Moore assistant emailed a Haley assistant to
set up a meeting between the two women. The meeting was set for
March 18. On March 14, however, the Moore assistant emailed the
Haley assistant, telling her that “something has come up and we
new (sic) need to cancel this meeting.”
On March 24, Haley emailed Godfrey, who had been trying to
get journalists to report that Moore was unresponsive to the
governor’s effort to meet with her.
“I said we had a meeting scheduled and she cancelled,” Haley
wrote. “We called and she didn’t return the call. Yes we sent a
letter but obey (sic) after she said it would be three weeks
before (sic) we could meet.”
The documents do not show any attempt by the governor’s
office to contact Moore prior to Haley’s letter on March 3. They
do show that, in February, Cofield was emailing the governor’s
office, getting instructions on how to fill out the paperwork
required of the USC position.
On Feb. 7, a Haley assistant wrote to Cofield: “It was good
talking with you. Attached is the form for the USC Board of
Trustees appointment. It’s pretty straightforward, but please
let me know if you need anything or have any questions! GO
Later, Cofield wrote Haley saying, “It is a double honor to
be appointed by the best governor in the United States of
America,” and asked for a meeting with Haley to ensure their
agendas were “aligned with what she wants.”
‘We have long ago moved on’
Others, too, were cozying up to the new governor.
In an email, Haley wrote that the governor’s other appointee
on the USC board, Mark Buyck, had “met with me multiple times to
let me know that he would be accessible and would communicate
and report back.”
Lexington Chronicle publisher Jerry Bellune, meanwhile,
emailed Haley to rip The State’s coverage. In another email,
however, he said Haley needed to answer some questions — asked
by The State — including why Moore was removed, and not Buyck;
if Moore’s removal was “the wisest or most diplomatic way to
‘fire’ someone who has given so much to” USC; what Haley did for
Lexington Medical Center to justify her former $110,000-a-year
salary; and why she forced a severance settlement from the
hospital when she was running for governor and could not be
reached by hospital officials.
Haley emailed staffers she would call Bellune.
Attempts to reach Moore were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Godfrey refused to answer specific questions about when the
governor tried to call Moore and when Moore told her that she
would not be able to meet for three weeks.
“The appointment was handled the same we handled each board
appointment, by finding the best person for the position who
shares the governor’s vision,” he said. “We have long ago moved
on from this story.”
That response is standard-operating procedure for the Haley
administration as well.
In an email exchange, Godfrey objected to a reporter for The
(Charleston) Post and Courier reporting on the controversy over
Haley’s Lexington Medical job application, which listed her
income in her previous job as $100,000 higher than it was,
according to her tax records. “Hadn’t y’all written about this
.. already?” Godfrey wrote, questioning “the relevance.”
Transparency was a big part of Haley’s pitch as she
campaigned for governor, as was the Tea Party mantra of holding
elected officials accountable for their words and actions.
In fulfilling The State’s Freedom of Information Act request,
however, the Haley administration said future requests won’t be
fulfilled without cost to those asking questions.
“Please note that due to the high volume of Freedom of
Information Act requests received by the Governor’s Office and
the significant costs associated with producing requests, our
office will charge a reasonable cost of copying records as
allowed pursuant to Section 30-4-30(b) for any future requests,”
Haley’s chief legal counsel, Swati S. Patel, wrote in a letter
that accompanied the documents requested by The State.