(Adds Cohn quotes, N.Y. Times report on resignation letter, details)
WASHINGTON, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Gary Cohn, President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, drafted a letter of resignation over the administration’s weak response to recent clashes between neo-Nazis and anti-racism protesters, but decided to stay on the job, the New York Times reported on Friday.
Cohn spoke publicly about the controversy for the first time in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper, saying the administration needed to clearly reject hate groups. He said there was no equivalence between white supremacists or neo-Nazis and those who protest inequality.
“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,” the former Goldman Sachs president told the newspaper.
“Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK,” he added.
Cohn’s criticism came nearly two weeks after white supremacist and neo-Nazi activists clashed with anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, over a plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general in the U.S. Civil War.
A man thought to have neo-Nazi sympathies drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring more than a dozen others. Following the clashes, Trump said there had been violence on “both sides,” remarks that spurred condemnation by both Republican and Democratic politicians.
Cohn stood nearby during an impromptu Trump Tower news conference as the president insisted there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville. Cohn considered resigning over Trump’s response, both newspapers reported, citing sources.
Cohn went so far as to draft a resignation letter, the New York Times reported, citing two people familiar with the document.
Cohn said he felt “compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks” and came under intense pressure to quit over Trump’s reaction to the incident but decided against it.
“As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to cause this Jew to leave his job,” he said, referring to chants by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. “I feel deep empathy for all who have been targeted by these hate groups. We must all unite together against them.” (Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jeffrey Benkoe)