On Tuesday, The Washington Post released excerpts from Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book “Fear”, which is apparently chock-full of stunning revelations about the Trump White House.
The book, scheduled for release this coming Tuesday, paints a picture of a president who is perpetually on the brink of making momentous decisions with seemingly little in the way of regard for the consequences. His cabinet, aides and advisors careen from incredulous to terrified and at times go to great lengths to protect the country and the world from Trump’s worst impulses.
The Post, quoting the book, described one episode that found former chief economic advisor Gary Cohn literally removing papers from Trump’s desk.
“Cohn, a Wall Street veteran, tried to tamp down Trump’s strident nationalism regarding trade”, the Post wrote, adding that “according to Woodward, Cohn ‘stole a letter off Trump’s desk’ that the president was intending to sign to formally withdraw the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea.”
Cohn’s rationale: to protect national security. Woodward also says Cohn prevented Trump from pulling the U.S. out of NAFTA. “In spring 2017, Trump was eager to withdraw from NAFTA and under orders from the president, Porter drafted a notification letter”, the Post reported, detailing Woodward’s account and adding that Porter “and other advisers worried that it could trigger an economic and foreign relations crisis so Porter consulted Cohn, who told him, according to Woodward: ‘I can stop this. I’ll just take the paper off his desk.'”
Cohn’s relationship with Trump was notoriously fraught. Following the Charlottesville press conference, Cohn threatened to resign, denting U.S. stocks and jeopardizing the future of the tax overhaul. He ended up staying on, but by March, Cohn had seen enough.
Well this weekend, Bloomberg is out with a similar account of Woodward’s reporting. Apparently, Trump decided to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA, the trade deal with South Korea and the WTO all at once in August of 2017. Here’s what happened next:
Then-top economic adviser Gary Cohn and staff secretary Rob Porter pulled chief of staff John Kelly into the Oval Office to convince Trump to back down. Soon, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis were brought into the fold and painted a dire picture of the national security and economic consequences of such a move. The president acquiesced — but only temporarily.
Weeks later, Trump finally got ahold of a draft letter to withdraw from the South Korea deal (I guess Gary accidentally let one slip through the cracks). According to Bloomberg’s account of Woodward’s reporting, the letter was drafted by either Peter Navarro or Wilbur Ross. Here’s what Trump supposedly said on September 5, 2017:
We’re going to withdraw from this. I just need to wordsmith this and we’re going to get it on official stationery and send this off. We need to do it today.
Steve Mnuchin stepped up with the stick save there, telling Trump that withdrawing from the agreement with South Korea could anger Republicans on Capitol Hill and endanger the tax cuts.
And it gets better. During one meeting about the metals tariffs, Navarro reportedly called Cohn (to his face) “a Wall Street establishment idiot.”
That didn’t go over well with Gary, who subsequently lost it, looking both Navarro and Trump in the eyes and saying this:
[You two] shut the f— up and listen. You might learn something.
My guess, given how spineless cowards usually react when real aggression is staring them straight away in the face, Navarro and Trump did indeed “shut the f— up”, but they most assuredly did not “listen”, because the U.S. subsequently plunged down the protectionist rabbit hole.
We’re still falling down that hole, but once we hit the bottom, nobody is going to like what’s down there.
Meanwhile, Gary Cohn will be golfing in the Hamptons should you need to reach him.
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