WASHINGTON — US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defiantly defended his boss on Saturday, responding to hundreds of his old college classmates who urged him to resign over the US president’s reaction to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The plea, which was dated August 18, told Mnuchin he had a “moral obligation” to to leave his cabinet post after US President Donald Trump blamed “many sides” for the deadly turn a neo-Nazi rally took last weekend and said there “very fine people on both sides.”
Many people, including the more than 300 members of Yale University’s class of 1985 who signed the missive, were dismayed by the president’s equating the racist rally-goers with those who showed up to oppose them.
Mnuchin, who is Jewish, addressed that charge directly in a statement released on Saturday.
“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,” he said.
The former hedge fund manager also cited his background to argue that the vitriol on display last weekend has roots beyond Trump’s presidency.
“As someone who is Jewish,” he said, “I believe I understand the long history of violence and hatred against the Jews (and other minorities) and circumstances that give rise to these sentiments and actions.”
Since Trump’s combative press conference Tuesday — in which Mnuchin stood next to him as he defended his original response to the “Unite the Right” rally, where a 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer rammed his car into a crowd, killing one person and injuring at least 19 others — the president has been subject to widespread rebuke.
It has resulted in the disbanding of several of his presidential councils, including on manufacturing and the arts. It has also ignited condemnation from various organizations and a bipartisan array of elected officials for his failure to unambiguously denounce racism.
Trump parted ways with his controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon on Friday as the White House reeled from the fallout over the president’s much-criticized response. But no member of the administration has resigned in protest.
In the letter, Mnuchin’s old schoolmates said they felt compelled to make such a request that he do so because the president “declared himself a sympathizer with groups whose values are antithetical to those values we consider fundamental to our sacred honor as Americans, as men and women of Yale, and as decent human beings.”
“President Trump made those declarations loudly, clearly, and unequivocally, and he said them as you stood next to him,” it said.
The signatories told Mnuchin that Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville highlighted an issue of greater importance than any policy priorities or ideas about governing.
“We can disagree on the means of promoting the general welfare of the country, on the size and role of government, on the nature of freedom and security, but we cannot take the side of what we know to be evil.”
“We call upon you, as our friend, our classmate, and as a fellow American, to resign in protest of President Trump’s support of Nazism and white supremacy,” the letter concluded. “We know you are better than this, and we are counting on you to do the right thing.”
Mnuchin, 54, insisted the allegations against the president were not accurate, and that “having highly talented men and women” surrounding the president as he makes important decisions will benefit the American people.
He mentioned his own efforts to stimulate economic growth and stop terrorist financing as work that was in the best interest of the country.