Gary Cohn’s Exit Leaves Major Void in Trump’s Orbit

He will be latest senior official to leave administration

Top White House economic adviser Gary Cohn and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster brief reporters on Jan. 23. Cohn announced this week he is leaving that position. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Top White House economic adviser Gary Cohn and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster brief reporters on Jan. 23. Cohn announced this week he is leaving that position. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Posted March 6, 2018 at 5:42pm

Updated 10:14 p.m. | The departure of Gary Cohn, Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, instantly creates another key West Wing vacancy and removes a widely respected figure from the president’s ever-changing orbit.

Cohn’s departure is merely the latest from the Trump administration and comes amid a disagreement over the president’s promised steel and aluminum tariffs, which Cohn opposes. The president made clear again on Tuesday he is moving forward over the objections of Cohn, Republican lawmakers, many economists and a list of national security experts.

The White House confirmed his resignation, first reported by The New York Times, in a statement Tuesday evening. Though it did not mention tensions, it did state the duo “for several weeks … had been discussing … that it was nearing time for him to transition out.” He is expected to stay on for “a few weeks.”

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

Cohn was a key player in the first 13 months of the administration. The former Goldman Sachs executive, a registered Democrat, helped shape some of the president’s bold but vague pronouncements into policy proposals. He was often dispatched to the briefing room to explain Trump’s stances to reporters, and his contacts on Wall Street and around the globe allowed him to calm nervous markets, although U.S. and worldwide indexes have sputtered so far in 2018.

He was instrumental in helping set the agenda and guide the green president through his first few foreign trips, which included explanations of the economic aspects of his “America first” governing philosophy. He also helped negotiate and secure votes for the GOP tax overhaul, which included rate reductions for corporations.

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Cohn was noticeably absent in the East Room earlier in the day for a joint press conference with Trump and his Swedish counterpart, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. The president did not answer a shouted question at the end of the event about Cohn’s whereabouts.

But the president did say that disagreements alone do not disqualify senior aides from having his ear or keeping their jobs.

“I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view, and I certainly have that,” he said. “And then I make a decision.”

For his part, Cohn called it “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’s soon-to-be empty office is the latest Trump will have to fill. To that end, the president tweeted Tuesday evening that a replacement will come “soon,” adding he has no shortage of candidates.

“Many people wanting the job,” the president tweeted, “will choose wisely!”

Earlier in the day, Trump said he could “have a choice of anybody” for jobs in the White House.

“I could take any position in the White House, and I’ll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position,” he said. “Everybody wants to be there.”

Trump must now fill Cohn’s position while he and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly search for a replacement for communications director Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s most trusted aides, who announced she will soon leave the White House. Her departure follows that of her former boyfriend, Rob Porter, who stepped down as staff secretary amid a domestic abuse scandal involving his two former wives.

During a Tuesday morning tweetstorm, Trump bashed the “Fake News narrative” that “there is CHAOS in the White House,” calling it “Wrong!” and declaring there is “no Chaos.” Notably, he signaled additional staff changes were coming: “I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection).”

The president was asked about his tweet during the joint press conference.

“I just said that the White House has tremendous energy. It has tremendous spirit. It is a great place to be working,” he said. “Many, many people want every single job. You know, I read where, ‘Oh, gee, maybe people don’t want to work for Trump.’ Believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House.”

“They all want a piece of that Oval Office. They want a piece of the West Wing,” he added. “And not only in terms of it looks great on their résumé — it’s just a great place to work.”

In a bit of unintended foreshadowing, an aide was spotted leading Cohn out a backdoor into a narrow passageway outside the West Wing during a Feb. 23 security lockdown.

He asked the aide, referring to the U.S. Secret Service: “Are they even letting people out of here?” A reporter shot back: “Can you even get out of here right now?”

Cohn did not reply. But a definitive answer came 12 days later.