WASHINGTON — US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday stood by his belief that US President Donald Trump responded appropriately to a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and that he would not leave the administration over it.
“I think there’s no question that the president was not equating the hate groups with the people who were peacefully [protesting them],” a defiant Mnuchin told reporters Friday after briefing them on the White House’s new sanctions imposed against Venezuela. “Under no circumstances was I going to resign.”
Mnuchin, who is Jewish, released a lengthy statement last week defending his boss after 300 of his old classmates at Yale University told him he had a “moral obligation” to step down over Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville.
After the rally — which ended in a neo-Nazi killing a woman after ramming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters — Trump said “both sides were to blame” for the rally’s violence and that “very fine people” were marching with neo-Nazis.
While Trump made these remarks at a press conference in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, Mnuchin stood by his side.
The former hedge fund manager’s unequivocal and forceful defense of the president was in contrast to another Jewish cabinet member who was also standing with him that day.
Earlier Friday, the Financial Times published an interview with Gary Cohn, who directs the National Economic Council, in which he expressed clear discomfort with Trump’s handling of that episode.
“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,” said Cohn, who also said he faced “tremendous pressure” to quit after Trump appeared to draw a moral equivalency between white-nationalist demonstrators and their anti-racism counter-protesters.
Cohn broke with the president by telling the FT that “citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK.”
Having faced calls to quit, Cohn said he decided he could be more effective by remaining in the administration.
“I have come under enormous pressure both to resign and to remain in my current position,” the former banker told the British daily.
“As a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post… because I feel a duty to fulfill my commitment to work on behalf of the American people,” Cohn said.
“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 added.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that Cohn considered quitting and went so far as to draft a resignation letter.
A reporter on Friday afternoon asked Mnuchin if he felt the same level of pressure that his colleague did.
“Gary and I have known each other for 20 years. I can tell you I’m speaking to him every day,” he said. “His number one focus is absolutely working on tax reform with me and getting tax reform done and Gary’s committed to be here and couldn’t be more excited about that.”