WASHINGTON — Gary Cohn, the White House’s top economic adviser, announced Tuesday that he was leaving the administration amid a major internal clash over President Trump’s sharp and sudden pivot toward protectionist trade policies.
Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs who had been an interlocutor between the Trump administration and the business community, still plans to stay in his job for several weeks, a person briefed on his plans said.
He plans to continue to push back on Trump’s planned tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, which have threatened to touch off a global trade war, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Cohn’s plans.
But his departure as National Economic Council director leaves the White House without a financial heavyweight who business executives and foreign leaders believed had served as a counter to Trump’s protectionist impulses and as a moderating force in other areas.
Cohn’s resignation announcement is the latest jolt to a White House that has been especially tumultuous in recent weeks and unable to retain its top talent. Last week, communications director Hope Hicks and deputy communications director Josh Raffel announced their resignations.
In February, staff secretary Rob Porter was forced out over domestic abuse allegations. And the year began with the departures of deputy national security adviser Dina Powell as well as Cohn’s deputy on the National Economic Council, Jeremy Katz.
Taken together, the departures largely diminish the faction of free trade advocates who not only held center-right views on trade and other issues, but were seen as moderating forces inside a West Wing otherwise populated by more hardline conservatives.
Bloomberg reported that Trump demanded Cohn’s cooperation on tariffs in a meeting in the Oval Office Tuesday — asking Cohn directly if he would support his decision to move forward with the plan.
Cohn would not offer his support, according to two people familiar with the episode — and just hours later, the White House announced Cohn’s resignation.
In a way, Cohn’s resignationwas exactly as Trump had predicted this week, telling associates that he expected Cohn to quit if he went ahead with the tariffs. Trump is expected to announce the moves — a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminum — as early as this week.
The New York Times reported that Cohn’s resignation followed conversations he held with the president in recent weeks about the possibility of replacing John F. Kelly as White House chief of staff, said people who were briefed on the matter. The president never formally offered Cohn the job, those people insisted, but Trump had discussions with him about whether he would be interested.
Trump, during the trade policy meeting in the Oval Office Tuesday, asked for an update on the legal paperwork that will make the tariffs official and discussed the timing of the signing of the tariffs order. He then sought confirmation that everyone — and especially Cohn — was willing to stand behind him.
‘‘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. ‘‘I am grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity and wish him and the Administration great success in the future.’’
Trump said in a statement, ‘‘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. He is a rare talent, and I thank him for his dedicated service to the American people.’’