Government by Goldman

Gary Cohn Is Giving Goldman Sachs Everything It Ever Wanted From the Trump Administration

Cross-posted from The Intercept

Steve Bannon was in the room the day Donald Trump first fell for Gary Cohn. So were Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, and Trump’s pick for secretary of Treasury, Steve Mnuchin. It was the end of November, three weeks after Trump’s improbable victory, and Cohn, then still the president of Goldman Sachs, was at Trump Tower presumably at the invitation of Kushner, with whom he was friendly. Cohn was there to offer his views about jobs and the economy. But, like the man he was there to meet, he was at heart a salesman.

On the campaign trail, Trump had spoken often about the importance of investing in infrastructure. Yet the president-elect had apparently failed to appreciate that the government would need to come up with hundreds of billions of dollars to fund his plans. Cohn, brash and bold, wired to attack any moneymaking opportunity, pitched a fix that would put Wall Street firms at the center: Private-industry partners could help infrastructure get fixed, saving the federal government from going deeper into debt. The way the moment was captured by the New York Times, among other publications, Trump was dumbfounded. “Is this true?” he asked. Was a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan likely to increase the deficit by a trillion dollars? Confronted by nodding heads, an unhappy president-elect said, “Why did I have to wait to have this guy tell me?”

Within two weeks, the transition team announced that Cohn would take over as director of the president’s National Economic Council

GOLDMAN ALWAYS WINS

Goldman Sachs had been a favorite cudgel for candidate Trump — the symbol of a government that favors Wall Street over its citizenry. Trump proclaimed that Hillary Clinton was in the firm’s pockets, as was Ted Cruz. It was Goldman Sachs that Trump singled out when he railed against a system rigged in favor of the global elite — one that “robbed our working class, stripped our country of wealth, and put money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.” Cohn, as president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs, had been at the heart of it all. Aggressive and relentless, a former aluminum siding salesman and commodities broker with a nose for making money, Cohn had turned Goldman’s sleepy home loan unit into what a Senate staffer called “one of the largest mortgage trading desks in the world.” There, he aggressively pushed his sales team to sell mortgage-backed securities to unaware investors even as he watched over “the big short,” Goldman’s decision to bet billions of dollars that the market would collapse.

Now Cohn would be coordinating economic policy for the populist president.

The conflicts between the two men were striking. Cohn ran a giant investment bank with offices in financial capitals around the globe, one deeply committed to a world with few economic borders. Trump’s nationalist campaign contradicted everything Goldman Sachs and its top executives represented on the global stage.

Trump raged against “offshoring” by American companies during the 2016 campaign. He even threatened “retribution,”­ a 35 percent tariff on any goods imported into the United States by a company that had moved jobs overseas. But Cohn laid out Goldman’s very different view of offshoring at an investor conference in Naples, Florida, in November. There, Cohn explained unapologetically that Goldman had offshored its back-office staff, including payroll and IT, to Bangalore, India, now home to the firm’s largest office outside New York City: “We hire people there because they work for cents on the dollar versus what people work for in the United States.”

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