Cohn resigns from White House

Gary Cohn, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE's top economic adviser, is resigning amid growing rifts over the direction of the administration’s economic policy.  

Cohn, director of the White House's National Economic Council, said he was stepping down on Tuesday after weeks of speculation that he and Trump were moving farther apart on trade policy. 

“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,” Cohn said in a statement. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“I am grateful to the president for giving me this opportunity and wish him and the administration great success in the future,” he said. 

The relationship between Cohn and the president seemed to be coming apart in the past couple of weeks with Trump insisting on steep steel and aluminum tariffs, a move Cohn opposed and had spent the better part of the past year trying to stop.

While Cohn had telegraphed his intentions to leave, his exit came abruptly. 

ADVERTISEMENT

 Cohn was noticeably absent from a press conference with Trump and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders took his reserved seat instead. 

He is expected to stay in the job for several more weeks. 

Though Cohn didn’t cite a specific reason for his departure, it had become clear that he and Trump were far apart on the president's plan to impose steep across-the-board steel and aluminum tariffs.

“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 in a statement. 

“He is a rare talent, and I thank him for his dedicated service to the American people,” Trump said. 

Cohn, a former head of Goldman Sachs, has served as Trump’s chief economic advisor since the beginning of the administration. His deep ties to Wall Street made him a reassuring presence to investors and traders, and he had been discussed as a potential future chief of staff for the White House.

At the same time, Cohn often came under criticism from others in Trump’s orbit.

As a Democrat, Cohn was never a natural fit inside the White House and frequently found himself at odds with the Trump loyalists who dominated the administration's early days.

Former chief strategist Stephen Bannon often derided Cohn as “Globalist Gary.” 

But Cohn outlasted Bannon and many others, even staying on after reportedly being furious with Trump over the president’s remarks about the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Va.

Cohn's departure comes amid a tumultuous time at the White House, which has been stung by several high-level departures, including communications director Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksWhite House aides tried to get Trump to fact-check his tweets: Woodward book Omarosa: Trump hired Hope Hicks because she is pretty Trump officials pushing Hope Hicks to join 2020 campaign: report MORE, staff secretary Rob Porter and adviser Reed Cordish.

Trump hours before the news of Cohn's resignation broke said many people wanted to work at the White House. He also said he liked having conflict and aides that disagreed with one another.

Cohn reportedly came close to resigning after the Charlottesville episode, which may also have damaged his standing with the president.

But he chose to stay as Trump pursued tax reform in the fall, which ended with a significant victory for the White House.

Trump’s plan to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports caused a new rift.

Cohn was reportedly planning to hold a meeting with Trump and opponents of the sweeping tariffs on Thursday at the White House. It is uncertain whether that meeting will go on as planned. 

He was among a group of free-traders in the administration who had succeeded during his tenure in persuading Trump to shelve plans for aggressive actions against U.S. trading partners.

But those efforts were foiled last week when Trump announced he would impose steep tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. 

The move irked Cohn in part because the president sidestepped the White House’s policy process. 

Trump allies noted that Cohn's overall worldview seemed incongruous with the president's more populist approach, even before the tariffs issue brought matters to a head.

“It's sad, obviously, because he has got tremendous talent,” Barry Bennett, a senior advisor to Trump's 2016 campaign, told The Hill. “But he was probably never really a good fit, ideologically. And in the end, ideology matters.”

Niall Stanage, Avery Anapol and Jonathan Easley contributed.