Gary Cohn and Donald TrumpGetty Images/Pool
- President Donald Trump nearly pulled the US out of two major trade deals in 2017, according to a new book by veteran journalist Bob Woodward.
- Woodward reports that Trump’s former top economic adviser Gary Cohn prevented withdrawals from NAFTA and a deal with South Korea by stealing documents authorizing the moves from Trump’s desk.
- Cohn and Trump long clashed on trade policy, along with the president’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
- Cohn left the White House in March.
President Donald Trump almost yanked the US out of two of the country’s largest trade deals, only to be be foiled when former economic adviser Gary Cohn snatched documents authorizing the withdrawal from the president’s desk.
That’s according to veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear,” which documents the chaos of the Trump White House, including Trump’s desire to scuttle some of the world’s largest free trade agreements.
According to Woodward, Trump wanted to pull the US out of both the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA — the seminal trade deal with Canada and Mexico — as well as the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as KORUS.
The first incident related to the KORUS deal, according to excerpts of Woodward’s book obtained by The Washington Post, where Woodward is an associate editor. Before Trump could sign official documents removing the US from the KORUS deal, which sets the rules for the nearly $150 billion in trade between the US and South Korea, Cohn “stole a letter off Trump’s desk” to prevent a possible economic disaster, according to The Post.
Cohn told colleagues that Trump never noticed the letter was missing.
Additionally, in the spring of 2017, Trump reportedly had then-staff secretary Rob Porter draft an order to remove the US from NAFTA. When Porter informed Cohn of the document, the economic adviser again used the same tactic to prevent the collapse of the trilateral trade agreement.
“I can stop this,” Cohn said, according to the book. “I’ll just take the paper off his desk.”
Economists have warned that pulling the US out of NAFTA would have dire economic consequences due to the tightly integrated economies of the US, Canada, and Mexico.
Trump rolled out a new preliminary trade agreement with Mexico on August 27 and is negotiating with Canada on an update to NAFTA. While it is unclear whether the final deal will ultimately be an updated NAFTA or a new deal, Trump has continued to bash the trilateral deal. He has also threatened to pull out of the deal and move forward with just Mexico.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration announced a revision of KORUS in March 2018, though the edited deal is still being finalized.
The episodes underscore Cohn’s repeated clashes with Trump, which came not just on trade issues, but also the president’s response to the violent, white supremacist-led protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
Cohn, who is Jewish, has previously said he nearly resigned over Trump’s response, which appeared to equivocate white supremacist protestors and counter-protestors. According to Woodward, Cohn was particularly troubled after a swastika was painted on the door of his daughter’s college dorm room.
Trump ultimately convinced Cohn to stay on after Charlottesville, but the former Goldman Sachs executive ultimately left the White House in March after Trump moved forward with tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.