- Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser and a former Goldman Sachs executive, is departing his position at the White House.
- The move comes after a tumultuous year as the National Economic Council director, which included fights with Trump over his response to Charlottesville and the passage of a massive tax overhaul.
- For Cohn, the final straw came after Trump’s decision to impose new tariffs on aluminium and steel.
Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council and President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, is leaving his post at the White House.
The move comes after an up-and-down year in the administration that included public spats with the president and a large legislative success in the form of a tax-code overhaul.
Recently, Cohn was unable to persuade the president to forgo tariffs on steel and aluminium. Cohn attempted to convince Trump that such tariffs would be damaging to the US economy, but Trump went ahead with the new trade barriers over the objections.
“It has been an honour to serve my country and enact pro-growth economic policies to benefit the American people, in particular the passage of historic tax reform,” Cohn said in a statement. “I am grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity and wish him and the Administration great success in the future.”
Cohn attempted to set up a last-ditch effort to get Trump to soften the tariffs by arranging a meeting with business executives who would be hurt by the new tariffs, which function as a tax on imports. But according to Axios’ Jonathan Swan, Trump canceled the meeting.
“Gary has been my chief economic adviser and did a superb job in driving our agenda, helping to deliver historic tax cuts and reforms and unleashing the American economy once again,” Trump said in a statement. “He is a rare talent, and I thank him for his dedicated service to the American people.”
According to a report from Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs, Trump asked Cohn in a meeting on Tuesday to publicly back the new tariffs. The president asked if Cohn was on the “same team” on the trade measure, but the adviser did not respond.
Following the announcement, Trump tweeted that the process of selecting a new economic adviser is already underway.
“Will be making a decision soon on the appointment of new Chief Economic Advisor,” Trump tweeted. “Many people wanting the job – will choose wisely!”
A White House official told Business Insider that Cohn had been discussing a possible exit with Trump for the past few weeks and a departure date has not been set.
‘Too liberal for the Obama administration’
Cohn was brought in from Goldman Sachs to help shape Trump’s economic agenda on trade, taxes, and more.
When he joined the Trump administration, Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs chief operating officer and the grandson of a Polish immigrant, was seen as a moderating force that would balance the anti-globalist wing of the administration. One early Trump adviser critical of Cohn’s appointment told Yahoo News’ Hunter Walker in April that he “would be too liberal for the Obama administration.”
According to The New York Times, which first reported the departure, Cohn held renewed talks with Trump about the chief of staff role after the recent controversy surrounding John Kelly’s role in the Rob Porter domestic-abuse scandal.
“Gary has served his country with great distinction, dedicating his skill and leadership to grow the US economy and pass historic tax reform,” Kelly said in a statement Tuesday. “I will miss having him as a partner in the White House, but he departs having made a real impact in the lives of the American people.”
Cohn thought about quitting after the Charlottesville controversy
But Cohn’s relationship with Trump hit a rough patch when it was reported that he had been dismayed at the president’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. He criticised the president’s statements about the violence in an interview with the Financial Times.
The interview led to Cohn falling out of Trump’s favour and bumped him from the top of the list to replace Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve.
Cohn’s Jewish faith also made him a target of white supremacists during his time in the administration.
He was reportedly “disgusted” with statements that Trump made at a press conference last summer, during which he said there were “two sides to a story” of what happened in Charlottesville. Trump also placed some of the blame on the counterprotesters while refusing to categorically condemn white-nationalist protesters, one of whom authorities say killed a woman when he drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters.
Trump’s comments at that press conference cost him the support of CEOs, leading to the dissolution of two business-advisory councils.
Cohn was at the press conference, which was meant to promote an infrastructure plan, but it quickly went off the rails as reporters questioned Trump’s response to the violence at the “Unite the Right” rally.
A key role in tax reform
Later in the year, Cohn was a key figure in spearheading the development of the Republican tax law working with congressional Republican leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to craft what the GOP says is the largest overhaul of the tax code since 1986.
There were rumours during the fight over the bill that Cohn was already eyeing an exit as soon as the tax bill passed Congress.
Cohn departs as a favourite among investors. Analysts say Wall Street believes Cohn is one of the driving forces of the deregulation effort in the White House and serves as a counterweight to the protectionist trade wing of Trump’s inner circle.
Following the news of Cohn’s departure, US stock futures tumbled with Dow Jones industrial average futures down over 300 points, or 1.3%, and S&P 500 futures down a little over 1% as well.