Trump adviser Gary Cohn says administration 'must do better' in condemning hate groups

Mr Gary Cohn, a prominent Jewish member of President Donald Trump’s administration, at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on Aug 15, 2017.
Mr Gary Cohn, a prominent Jewish member of President Donald Trump’s administration, at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on Aug 15, 2017.PHOTO: THE NEW YORK TIMES

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES)- One of President Donald Trump's senior advisers said that the administration "can and must do better" in consistently condemning hate groups.

The sharp critique from Mr Trump's top economic adviser Gary D. Cohn came nearly two weeks after deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in response to a rally led by white nationalist groups.

Mr Cohn, who is Jewish, said he has been pressured both to resign and to stay in his position, according to an interview Thursday (Aug 24) with the Financial Times.

In his first public remarks on the national dialogue about the violence, Mr Cohn said as a "patriotic American" he did not want to leave his job as the director of the National Economic Council.

"But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks," Mr Cohn said.

In the days after the Charlottesville rally, when Mr Trump defended white nationalist protesters, Jewish members of the administration were mostly silent.

Mr Trump said there were "very fine people on both sides", as Mr Cohn stood nearby in the lobby of Trump Tower where the President made his remarks to reporters.

After Mr Trump left, Mr Cohn stood uncomfortably fielding questions about the President's statements, and he repeatedly declined to comment. At the time, people close to Mr Cohn said he was disgusted and deeply upset by Mr Trump's comments.

On Thursday, Mr Cohn spoke publicly for the first time about the issue in the Financial Times interview, which largely focused on tax reform.

"Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK," Mr Cohn said. "I believe 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."

Mr Cohn added, "As a Jewish-American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting 'Jews will not replace us' to cause this Jew to leave his job."

In the days after the Charlottesville violence, Mr Cohn's family - including his wife - told him he needed to think seriously about departing, according to two people briefed on the discussions. Several of his friends in the business community also urged him to step away from the administration. Mr Cohn is a former executive at Goldman Sachs.

Mr Cohn came close to resigning, according to one of the people briefed on the discussions. He met Mr Trump privately at the President's golf club in New Jersey last Friday.

Mr Cohn also told the Financial Times he spoke privately with Mr Trump about these issues.

"I have not been bashful saying what I think," Mr Cohn said.

Mr Cohn is known to be interested in becoming chairman of the Federal Reserve and still sees that as a possibility. It was not clear whether he told the President he planned to speak to the Financial Times.

Mr Cohn's remarks were in stark contrast to a statement from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who defended the President.