The New York Times had an interesting item over the weekend on White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s operation, which included an anecdote I hadn’t seen elsewhere.
The new chief of staff has tried to shield Gary D. Cohn, the chairman of the National Economic Council, from Mr. Trump’s continuing wrath since the former Goldman Sachs executive went public with his disgust at the president’s response to the deadly violence last month in Charlottesville, Va.
Mr. Kelly made a point, one staff member said, of throwing his arm around Mr. Cohn in solidarity, in full view of the news media, as they exited Marine One last week on the South Lawn.
But he has not always been successful. Several aides said Mr. Trump is freezing out Mr. Cohn by employing a familiar tactic: refusing to make eye contact with Mr. Cohn when his adviser greets him.
In related news, the president is reportedly prepared to stop passing notes to Cohn in homeroom and may refuse to write “BFF” in his yearbook.
C’mon. Eight months into Trump’s presidency, he doesn’t want to look his chief economic advisor in the eye? And in the White House this is considered “a familiar tactic” that the president has used with others?
While this obviously raises unsettling questions about Trump’s maturity, let’s not forget exactly what Cohn did to earn a spot in the president’s dog house.
After Trump praised the “fine people” among the racist activists in Charlottesville last month, Cohn expressed his dissatisfaction with the president’s reaction during an interview with the Financial Times. “Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK,” Cohn argued, careful not to criticize his boss, but nevertheless leaving little doubt to whom he was referring. “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.”
And that was that. All of a sudden, Cohn was out as a top contender to be the next Federal Reserve chair, and in private meetings, the president reportedly won’t even make eye contact with him.
It’s not that Cohn was wrong, of course, about his denunciation of right-wing racists. It’s that he publicly disagreed with Trump – and in this White House, that constitutes a betrayal that carries consequences.