NEW YORK, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Billionaire investor Stephen Schwarzman said he understood the decision to disband the business advisory groups but said he was not personally “outraged” by President Trump’s reaction to a rally organized by white nationalists.
Earlier at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said “I personally think it was a mistake that the councils were disbanded.”
Schwarzman, speaking several hours after Mnuchin, made his first public comments on the issue since the CEO councils broke apart last month after violence in Charlottesville that left one woman dead. He said corporate chiefs faced “astonishing” pressure after Trump blamed both sides for the violence, and there was no appetite to keep the group going.
Trump’s statements drew sharp rebukes. Recalling critical emails, Schwarzman said “People were under legitimate, astonishing pressure.” He added “I was accused of being a Nazi and I’m Jewish.”
As head of the Strategic and Policy Forum created to advise Trump on economic issues, Schwarzman, who runs investment firm Blackstone Group, said he polled all members including Mary Barra at General Motors Co. and Virginia Rometty at IBM, giving each one minute to speak and going in alphabetical order.
“It was hard having all these constituents attack you,” Schwarzman said, explaining why the group broke apart so quickly. Schwarzman was described by people close to him as having been “outraged” by Trump’s statements, but he said on Tuesday that this was not the case. He declined to characterize his relationship with Trump or say whether he has continued to be in touch with the president.
Generally, Schwarzman said people at the top of their fields with special skills have an obligation to help presidents, noting it was essentially their responsibility to aid society.
Schwarzman said he was “passionate” about the program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, which allows young people who came to this country illegally as children to avoid being deported. Trump has said he plans to end the program.
“Where are you going to send them?” Schwarzman said about the possibility of deporting as many as 800,000 people as early as next year. “There’s a moral dimension to this that will overcome some of the political to-ing and fro-ing.
“These people are as American as you are,” Schwarzman said. (Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by David Gregorio)