Gary Cohn: Donald Trump's chief economic adviser felt 'great pressure' to quit over President's Charlottesville response

Two Jewish members of the Cabinet were under particular pressure to resign following the controversy

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Friday 25 August 2017 13:46 BST
Mr Cohn said he felt pressure from all sides
Mr Cohn said he felt pressure from all sides (Getty)

Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser said he felt “enormous pressure” to quit the administration following the President response to violence in Charlottesville in which he was accused of failing to condemn white supremacists.

Gary Cohn, who is Jewish and who joined Mr Trump’s administration after serving as CEO of Goldman Sachs, said he he felt compelled to resign after the President placed blame for the violence on “all sides”, but also felt pressure to stay and work for the country. One report said he went as far as drafting a resignation letter.

“I have come under enormous pressure both to resign and to remain in my current position. As a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post,” he told the Financial Times.

Mr Cohn joined the administration after a long career on Wall St (Getty)

“But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks...Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK.”

Mr Trump faced widespread criticism following the violence that left a young woman dead and up to 20 people injured. The clashes took place as scores of white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered in the Virginia college town to protest over plans to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee. They were met by dozens of counterprotesters.

Boris Johnson says Donald Trump got it "totally wrong" on Charlottesville

Mr Trump issued a series of shifting statements, reportedly prodded by his most senior advisers and members of his family, including his daughter, Ivanka, who converted to Judaism in order to marry Jared Kusher. Mr Trump’s daughter and his son-in-law have senior advisory positions within the White House.

Yet Mr Trump reopened the controversy during a wild, unscripted press conference last week in Trump Tower, in which he reverted to his original position and also defended those seeking to protect statues of controversial figures such as Lee.

In the interview, his first public comments on the issue, he said it was essential the White House learned from the controversy Mr Trump’s slow and flailing reaction had created. “This administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities,” he said.

The newspaper said the 56-year-old Mr Cohn, who with Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin is heading a push to enact tax reform, seriously considered resigning, according to his friends, but opted to remain after speaking with the President.

“As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to cause this Jew to leave his job,” he said. “I feel deep empathy for all who have been targeted by these hate groups. We must all unite together against them.”

Mr Mnuchin, who is also Jewish, was similarly pressure to quit - including from his classmates at Yale University who issued a public letter. While he condemned racism, Mr Mnuchin defended the president.

“I feel compelled to let you know that the President in no way, shape or form, believes that neo-Nazi and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways,” Mr Mnuchin said.

Mr Cohn’s comments come after business executives advising the President decided to resign from two consultation bodies following the Charlottesville controversy. They were concerned about the impact on both their employees and their customers.

The members of an arts advisory body also resigned, while four senior generals representing different branches of the armed forces used Twitter to denounce racism and bigotry and insist it had no place in the military.

The FT said when Mr Cohn was asked if his decision to remain in the administration was somehow connected to the recent firing of Steve Bannon, the populist chief strategist with whom he had frequently butted heads, he said: “No, my decisions are my own decisions.”

He added: “I have to do what is best for me and my family. I have had numerous private conversations with the president on this topic and I have not been bashful saying what I think.”

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