Mark Wilson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Gary Cohn, the president’s top economic adviser, was so upset by Trump’s response to violent clashes involving white nationalists in Charlottesville that he drafted a letter of resignation, a source with direct knowledge of the matter confirmed to ABC News.
Cohn, who is Jewish, did not resign, telling the Financial Times in an interview released Friday that, “As a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post.”
But Cohn added: “I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks.”
Those events included the gathering of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville over the weekend of August 11 and 12 and the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer. The president, claiming in his initial statement on Saturday that violence existed on “both sides,” faced criticism for not immediately and directly denouncing the hate groups by name.
While he later expanded his comments on Aug. 14 to mention neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, the president claimed there were “very fine people” among the white nationalists in a raucous Trump Tower press conference in which Cohn stood next to him.
After Trump left the press conference, Cohn was asked directly about the white supremacists who have supported Trump. While Cohn said he still supported the president, he seemed visibly uncomfortable and deferred many questions to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
In the days following Trump’s statements, there were reports that Cohn was “disgusted” by the president’s remarks.
“Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK,” Cohn told the Financial Times.
The former Goldman Sachs executive has acknowledged that he faced significant pressure to resign by many friends and former Wall Street colleagues.
“I have come under enormous pressure both to resign and to remain in my current position,” Cohn told the Financial Times.
But, he told the paper, “I have to do what is best for me and my family. I have had numerous private conversations with the president on this topic [and] I have not been bashful saying what I think.”
While the events in Charlottesville upset several administration officials, Cohn told the Financial Times that each person made their own choice about how to respond.
“This is a personal issue for each of us. We are all grappling with it. This takes time to grapple with,” Cohn added.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who is Jewish and also stood next to Trump during the Aug. 14 press conference, issued his own statement in the wake of the violence Charlottesville.
“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,” Mnuchin wrote in response to a letter penned by more than 350 of his former Yale classmates.
Cohn’s comments come at the end of a tumultuous summer for the Trump administration in which several officials, including Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci and Steve Bannon, left.
“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,” Cohn told the Financial Times.
Despite his disappointment in the president’s response, Cohn told the FT: “As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to cause this Jew to leave his job.”
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