- Gary Cohn, President Donald Trump’s former top economic adviser, said the president originally wanted to raise the top marginal tax rate to 44% as the GOP tax bill was being crafted.
- The rate was ultimately lowered to 37% from 39.6% in the final version of the bill that is now law.
- Cohn’s statement appears to confirm reporting by Bob Woodward in his new book “Fear: Trump in the White House.”
- Woodward reported that Cohn had to talk Trump out of raising the top rate to 44%.
- Cohn refused to talk further about the Woodward book, neither confirming nor denying the report that he stole documents from Trump’s desk to prevent the president from pulling the US out of two major trade deals.
Gary Cohn, the former top economic adviser to President Donald Trump, confirmed a detail about the president’s position on taxes that was reported in Bob Woodward’s new book.
During a Reuters event in New York City on Monday, Cohn expressed regret that the Republican tax law that was passed at the end of 2017 was not simply a cut in the corporate tax rate. Cohn said that during the debate over the plan, Trump similarly wanted to just focus the bill on the corporate side instead of also cutting taxes for individuals.
In fact, Cohn said, Trump actually wanted to raise the top marginal tax rate to 44%.
“I would have rather have just cut corporate taxes, not touch personal taxes at all, and by the way the president was there too, the president would have just done corporate taxes and not personal taxes,” Cohn said. “In fact he was willing to raise the high end of personal taxes, there were times he was talking about 44.6% or 44.9% on the personal side.”
Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, said that the administration ultimately had to include individual tax cuts because many US companies are pass-through businesses in which the owner takes the profits and the money is taxed like personal income. Cutting just the corporate rate would have created too large a discrepancy for corporations and those pass-throughs, Cohn said.
The plan to increase the top tax rate to 44% was originally attributed to former adviser Steve Bannon and, according to Woodward, the bump would have allowed Trump to lower the corporate tax rate to 15% instead of the 21% in the final bill. But, Cohn advised Trump not to increase the top rate, Woodward reported.
“Sir, you can’t take the top rate up,” Cohn reportedly told the president. “You just can’t.”
“What do you mean?” Trump replied per Woodward.
“You’re a Republican,” Cohn, who was a Democrat, told Trump, adding the president would “get absolutely destroyed” if he went through with the idea.
The top rate was eventually dropped to 37% from 39.5% in the version of the GOP tax bill that is now law.
In addition to confirming Trump’s desire to boost taxes, Cohn also fielded questions on the most explosive part of the book. Woodward reported that Cohn stole documents off the president’s desk to prevent Trump from pulling the US out of the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Cohn refused to confirm or deny that Woodward’s reporting was correct.
“I’ve said what I’m going to say on the Woodward book,” Cohn said.
Cohn is featured extensively in Woodward’s book, including many direct quotes. Woodward’s book used interviews with anonymous sources conducted on deep background, which means no source is identified in the writing. According to reports, Trump and other members of the administration believe Cohn was a source for the book.
Cohn issued a statement on the day of the book’s release that said Woodward’s reporting “does not accurately portray my experience at the White House.” The statement did not push back on any individual story, such as the document theft.
Cohn left the White House in March soon after Trump announced new tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. The former Goldman executive has been critical of Trump’s use of tariffs.
The White House has also attacked Woodward’s book, calling it “nothing more than fabricated stories.”
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