Gary Cohn, President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, has criticized the White House’s response to Charlottesville, Virginia, in his first public remarks about the deadly violence earlier this month.
“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,” Cohn told the Financial Times.
Cohn said he felt compelled “to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks.”
Cohn, who is Jewish, was reportedly “disgusted” and “appalled” with Trump’s response to white nationalists’ role in the violence in Charlottesville. The president blamed “both sides” for the violence, which left one counterprotester dead.
“Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK,” Cohn told the FT.
After Trump’s remarks, Cohn said, he felt “enormous pressure” both to resign and to stay in the administration. But he told the FT he was “reluctant” to leave based on a “commitment” to the American people.
False rumors that Cohn was leaving the White House after Trump’s remarks spooked Wall Street, appearing to spark a sharp dip in the S&P 500.
As Business Insider’s Bob Bryan notes:
“Finance-focused political analysts warned after the rumors that there could be a serious loss of investor confidence if Cohn were to depart Trump’s administration. Some observers doubt the business-friendly and economically stimulative policies on taxes and infrastructure promised by Trump can actually materialize without Cohn in the White House.”
Trump’s Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, who also is Jewish, also faced pressure to resign following the president’s remarks.
Nearly 400 of Mnuchin’s Yale University classmates signed a letter strongly urging him to resign.
Mnuchin, however, put out a statement actively defending his boss.
“While I find it hard to believe I should have to defend myself on this, or 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,” Mnuchin wrote.
Both Cohn and Mnuchin worked at Goldman Sachs, and they are now charged with leading the Trump administration’s efforts to overhaul the tax system. Cohn is also believed to be Trump’s preferred pick to lead the Federal Reserve after Janet Yellen’s term expires in February.