A senator’s claim that the White House’s chief economic adviser faked a bad connection to get President Donald Trump off the phone during a long call drew immediate pushback Wednesday from the White House and multiple people in the room.
Sen. Tom Carper made the claim Wednesday morning during an interview with CNN that chief economic adviser Gary Cohn abruptly ended a conversation about tax reform that the President had called into while he was traveling in Asia earlier in November.
The Delaware Democrat said that he had been meeting with Cohn, White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short and other members of the Trump administration, as well as moderate Democrats, when the President called in from his Asia trip.
Carper noted that it was “nice of him” to call, but claimed that “15 minutes later, the President (was) still talking.”
“I said, ‘Gary, why don’t you do this, just take the phone from, you know, your cell phone back and just say, ‘Mr. President, you’re brilliant, but we’re losing contact, and I think we’re going to lose you now, so good-bye,’ ” the lawmaker recounted on “CNN Newsroom” with Poppy Harlow and John Berman.
“That’s what he did, and he hung up,” Carper continued. “And then we went back to having the kind of conversation where we needed to, where they asked the right kind of questions, looking for consensus and common ground and I think we identified a little bit.”
But the White House, and multiple sources, are disputing Carper’s initial recollection of the event.
“Senator Carper’s claim is completely false,” said Raj Shah, the White House’s principal deputy press secretary. “Gary Cohn left the room and continued to speak with the President privately for several minutes before they concluded the call.”
Sen. Chris Coons, a fellow Delaware Democrat who was in the meeting, said that he also remembers the events “a little differently.”
“It was a long call. It was clear that there was some eagerness in the room for us to resume our conversation. We heard a lot from the President,” he explained to CNN’s Jim Sciutto.
“I do remember Senator Carper making that suggestion. I don’t think Gary Cohn abruptly hung up on the President, but it was a challenge to transition him off the call. And I think Gary Cohn handled it appropriately,” Coons continued.
A spokeswoman for Carper later told CNN that the senator maintains that he urged Cohn — in front of the whole group — to tell the President he’s brilliant but they were losing the connection and to hang up. According to Carper, Cohn then wrapped up the conversation.
However, as to whether Cohn hung up the call in that moment or whether he simply took the group off speakerphone and continued the conversation privately, Carper does not recall that exact detail, according to his spokeswoman.
A source in the room also disputed Carper’s recollection of the events, telling CNN that while Carper did say Cohn should “tell (Trump) he’s brilliant and hang up,” he did not suggest faking a bad connection. Cohn then walked away from the table while still talking on the phone and left the room, the source said.
Carper’s description of the incident appeared to put Cohn at odds with the President. In the wake of racially charged deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Cohn seemed to break with Trump when he told the Financial Times that the President’s handling of the protests caused him “distress.” He said the administration “can and must do better” to condemn hate groups.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said at the time that Cohn should have resigned after that public rebuke of the President.
“I’m obviously talking about Gary Cohn and some other people, that if you don’t like what he’s doing, and you don’t agree with it, you have an obligation to resign,” he told CBS’ “60 Minutes.”