Donald Trump’s White House was rocked by another shock resignation Tuesday, as top economic adviser Gary Cohn quit in protest at the president’s decision to levy global trade tariffs.
“It has been an honor to serve my country and enact pro-growth economic policies to benefit the American people,” Cohn said in a terse statement that belied fierce infighting in Trump’s rollercoaster White House.
Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, has been the leading internal opponent to Trump’s planned tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum. He has tried to orchestrate an eleventh-hour effort to push Trump to reverse course. But Trump has been resistant to those efforts, and reiterated Tuesday he will be imposing the tariffs in the coming days.
Cohn is just the latest in a long string of senior Trump advisors to resign or be fired, a virtually unprecedented turnover of administration staff.
“For several weeks Gary had been discussing with the president that it was nearing time for him to transition out. His departure date is to be determined but will be a few weeks from now,” a White House official said.
A former Goldman Sachs executive, his departure prompted concerned murmurs on Wall Street and could portend a rocky trading session on Wednesday.
A long-time Democrat, he was seen as a moderating influence that curbed Trump’s nationalist economic instincts and those of advisors like Peter Navarro.
In a statement, Trump praised Cohn’s as a “rare talent.”
“Gary has been my chief economic advisor 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. “He is a rare talent, and I thank him for his dedicated service to the American people.”
Cohn’s departure presents a political problem for Trump, as he wrestles Congressional Republicans who share the aide’s concern about tariffs and a looming trade war.
It also blows a hole in Trump’s claim, made just hours earlier, that his White House is running smoothly, despite a wave of resignations and FBI investigators circling his top aides.
In an early morning tweet, Trump said there was no “CHAOS in the White House” describing it as a “Fake News narrative” as he tried to reassure supporters that his administration has not careened off the rails.
“Wrong! People will always come & go,” he said after his closest aide Hope Hicks and staff secretary Rob Porter stepped down amid interwoven scandals.
Trump’s first year in office has been a frenzy of departures and infighting, which insiders put down to clashing interests, inexperience and the president’s unique management style.
“I want strong dialogue before making a final decision,” Trump said, defending his method of promoting staff argument.
But the former real estate developer also hinted that things were not perfect.
“I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!” he said.
Last September Cohn, who is Jewish, openly expressed disappointment with the president for his response to violence in Charlottesville surrounding a rally by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
At the time Cohn reportedly drafted a resignation letter. He later stated that he had only stuck around in order to shepherd through tax reform.
Before joining the administration, Cohn had served as president and chief operating officer at Goldman Sachs, where he had worked since 1990. He answered to CEO Lloyd Blankfein and was considered a strong candidate to lead the bank.
The father of three has a reputation for abrasiveness, but also for getting things done, according to a Wall Street Journal profile in 2016. In a 2014 New York Times op-ed, Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith wrote on the day he resigned that Blankfein and Cohn were responsible for a “decline in the firm’s moral fiber” that placed its interests above those of its clients.
Cohn, a Cleveland native, in 2009 funded the Cohn Jewish Student Center at Kent State University named for his parents.
JTA contributed to this report.