Trump offered Cohn jobs running defense and intelligence before landing on economics.
Gary Cohn, then president of Goldman Sachs, made a real impression on Donald Trump in a Trump Tower meeting on Nov. 30 2016. Dazzled, Trump offered Cohn five totally different jobs that day, according to legendary journalist Bob Woodward’s new book Fear: Trump in the White House.
Cohn is a registered Democrat and donated to Trump’s 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, he reportedly impressed the president-elect with policy proposals like issuing 50 and 100-year Treasury bonds and cutting the corporate tax rate. After the investment banker warned Trump about automation in the workforce, the president-elect began a rapid-fire series of job offers.
Woodward reported the book through hundreds of hours of interviews with first-hand witnesses on deep background—which meant he could use information they told him but not say who it came from. The White House has rejected (paywall) early excerpts of Fear as “fabricated stories.”
1. Deputy secretary of defense
“I don’t want to be deputy secretary of anything,” Cohn said, according to Woodward.
2. Director of national intelligence
Cohn “was not sure what the job did,” and declined, Woodward writes. A job running U.S. intelligence agencies wasn’t well-suited to a career banker.
3. Energy secretary
Trump’s rationale for offering the job was that Cohn trades commodities; Cohn wasn’t interested.
4. Director of the Office of Management and Budget
“Cohn knew it was a horrible job,” Woodward writes. He said no.
5. Treasury secretary
Sitting in front of Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s chief campaign fundraiser who had already been offered the treasury secretary post, the president-elect reportedly said: “You know what…I hired the wrong guy for treasury secretary. You should be treasury secretary. You would be the best treasury secretary.”
As Mnuchin remained silent, Trump reportedly told Cohn to “come back and tell me what you want.” Five minutes later, Cohn was still in the building when he saw on television the news that Mnuchin would be treasury secretary, Woodward writes.
Mnuchin seemed to have leaked it: “That’s crazy,” Jared Kushner said to Trump, according to Woodward. “Mnuchin just put that out. You freaked him out so badly in the meeting.”
The job Trump and Cohn could agree on
Cohn asked around and eventually decided he wanted to be the head of the White House National Economic Council, with the requirement that all economy-related decisions go through him, Woodward writes. Chief of staff-to-be Reince Priebus apparently protested the speed with which Trump had hired a pro-Clinton Democrat. Trump, himself a former Clinton donor, would hear none of it: “We don’t need to talk about it…he’s going to be great.”