Gary Cohn Resigns as White House Economic Adviser After Losing Tariffs Fight -- Update

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03/07/2018 | 12:36 am
Gary Cohn


By Rebecca Ballhaus and Liz Hoffman



Gary Cohn, the White House National Economic Council director, resigned on Tuesday after less than 14 months in his role, following President Donald Trump's decision last week to impose steel and aluminum tariffs that the economics adviser had opposed.



Mr. Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive, said in a statement: "It has been an honor to serve my country and enact pro-growth economic policies to benefit the American people, in particular the passage of historic tax reform. I am grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity and wish him and the Administration great success in the future."



Mr. Trump praised Mr. Cohn's "superb job" as his economics adviser and called him a "rare talent."



"I thank him for his dedicated service to the American people," Mr. Trump said.



White House chief of staff John Kelly said Mr. Cohn had "served his country with great distinction, dedicating his skill and leadership to grow the U.S. economy and pass historic tax reform."



Mr. Cohn was part of a globalist wing of the White House that lately has been in retreat. Peter Navarro, another adviser who helped craft the president's protectionist stance in the campaign, prevailed in a high-profile fight over new tariffs on aluminum and steel imports. Mr. Cohn had fought internally to stave off the move and told aides last week he might resign if the president followed through and imposed the tariffs.



As recently as early this week, Mr. Cohn still seemed to be fighting the decision, trying to put together a meeting among industry executives whose companies would have been hurt by the tariffs. That meeting, which had been expected to happen later this week, was no longer being planned following Mr. Cohn's resignation, a White House official said.



In his role as the president's top economics adviser, Mr. Cohn spearheaded the passage of an overhaul of the U.S. tax code last year. He also worked on the administration's infrastructure, health-care, energy and cybersecurity efforts, White House aides said.



Mr. Cohn in recent weeks had been discussing with Mr. Trump that expected to leave the White House soon, a White House official said. He doesn't yet have a departure date.



The defeat on tariffs last week was the latest setback for Mr. Cohn, who has seen many ups and downs in the turbulent West Wing.



Early on, the president enjoyed introducing Mr. Cohn as a former Goldman executive, frequently estimating that the investment banker gave up hundreds of millions of dollars to join the West Wing. In a Wall Street Journal interview in July, Mr. Trump mused about putting Mr. Cohn in charge of the central-banking system as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve.



But that nomination never happened. Mr. Cohn criticized Mr. Trump's response to the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Va., and found himself isolated. In September, Mr. Trump told friends that he was no longer considering Mr. Cohn for the Fed post, which ultimately went to Jerome Powell.



But Mr. Cohn worked his way back in. He helped shepherd the president's tax-cut package through Congress, delivering the president his signature legislative accomplishment.



He performed so favorably that the president discussed with friends as recently as last month about whether to install him as chief of staff, despite Mr. Cohn's standing as a registered Democrat.



Mr. Cohn wasn't seen at the president's Tuesday afternoon press conference with the prime minister of Sweden, in which Mr. Trump declared, "Everyone wants to work at the White House."



Mr. Cohn's departure follows that of Dina Powell, another Goldman alum who had been in the Trump White House. She is returning to Goldman.



"Gary Cohn deserves credit for serving his country in a first class way, " CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweeted Tuesday afternoon. "I'm sure I join many others who are disappointed to see him leave."



Mr. Cohn had spent 26 years at Goldman before tiring of his role as Mr. Blankfein's second-in-command.



He grew up in Cleveland, where first job was selling window frames and aluminum siding. He later traded silver on Wall Street and took a pay cut to join Goldman's commodities arm. He became a partner in 1994, the same year as the current Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin. He ran Goldman's daily operations and, at 6-foot-3, cut a swaggering figure on its famed trading floor.



Mr. Cohn was once seen as the likely successor to Mr. Blankfein, his longtime friend and boss. The two had risen together through Goldman's trading division and owned vacation homes nearby each other in the Hamptons.



But as Mr. Blankfein remained in the job longer than many expected, odds lengthened for Mr. Cohn and began to favor the crown skipping to a younger executive.



He has stayed long enough in the White House to keep tax-deferred treatment on more than $250 million in bonuses.



--Peter Nicholas contributed to this article.



Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at [email protected] and Liz Hoffman at [email protected]





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