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U.S. National Economic Director Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
Reuters/Carlos Barria
This is awkward.
CLEAR CONSCIENCE?

Here’s how Trump’s top financial advisors justified not resigning after Charlottesville

Eshe Nelson
By Eshe Nelson

Economics & Markets Reporter

In the aftermath of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia and Donald Trump’s reluctance to fully condemn the neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white supremacists in attendance, businesspeople of all stripes have been distancing themselves from the US president. Notably, two people are sticking by his side: Gary Cohn, head of the National Economic Council, and Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury Secretary. Between them they hold the most sway over US economic policy but many question how they can continue to serve in Trump’s administration.

Cohn addressed this question head-on in an interview with the Financial Times. In the transcript published today here’s what he had to say:

I have come under enormous pressure both to resign and to remain in my current position. As a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post as director of the National Economic Council because I feel a duty to fulfil my commitment to work on behalf of the American people. But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks.

Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK. 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. As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting “Jews will not replace us” to cause this Jew to leave his job. I feel deep empathy for all who have been targeted by these hate groups. We must all unite together against them.

Given Trump’s consistency in lashing out at anyone who says a bad word against him, these might finally seem like bold words from someone in an inner circle of the White House. However, Cohn has the weight of financial markets on his side. Just a rumour that he was going to resign last week caused the US stock market to fall.

Last week, Mnuchin was urged by hundreds of his former Yale classmates to resign. In response, he issued a statement through the Treasury Department saying he was proud to serve the US and was doing so to focus on policy changes, including tax reform and cutting regulations. Of Charlottesville, he said:

I strongly condemn the actions of those filled with hate and with the intent to harm others. They have no defense from me nor do they have any defense from the President or this administration. As the President said in his very first comment on the events that were unfolding in Charlottesville, “[w]e all must be united and condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one.

…As someone who is Jewish, 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. 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.

The obvious difference here is the length to which Mnuchin goes to defend Trump, while trying to justify his own motives. Either way, they both profess to be sticking around just to get things done.

After Republican party’s failure to repeal or replace Obamacare, now’s the moment to prove that they can at least secure tax reform. This effort will supposedly begin in earnest next week. However, previously failed White House initiatives and events—including “Infrastructure Week”—mean market expectations for success are very low.

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