Jewish Trump Staff Silent on His Defense of Rally With anti-Semitic Marchers

Director of National Economic Council Gary D. Cohn, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner are among the Jewish members of the administration who have not spoken out

Michael D. Shear, The New York Times
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White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 31, 2017.
White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 31, 2017.Credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS
Michael D. Shear, The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Jewish members of U.S. President Trump’s administration remained largely silent Wednesday after Mr. Trump came to the defense of nationalist and right-wing protesters in Charlottesville, Va., who had chanted anti-Semitic slogans and demeaned the president’s Jewish son-in-law.

Gary D. Cohn, the director of the president’s National Economic Council, who is Jewish, was described by several people close to him as “disgusted” and “deeply upset” by the president’s remarks. But Mr. Cohn has not publicly expressed those views.

Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the Treasury and also Jewish, stood silently behind Mr. Trump on Tuesday as the president said there were “very fine people on both sides” at the Virginia incident. Mr. Mnuchin has not said anything since about the president’s remarks.

And Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, who is also Jewish, has been silent about Mr. Trump’s comments. Ivanka Trump, Mr. Kushner’s wife, who converted to Judaism, said in a tweet on Sunday, “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.”

Requests for comment on Wednesday from Mr. Kushner, Mr. Cohn and Mr. Mnuchin were not answered.

The violent racist protests in Charlottesville began as white supremacists and others rallied against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park in the city. Their words were aimed at Jews as well as blacks.

Neo-Nazis carried torches and chanted “Jews will not replace us” as they marched through the University of Virginia campus on Friday. And on Tuesday, Chris Cantwell, a white supremacist leader, told Vice News that he wanted a president who “does not give his daughter to a Jew.”

In his comments on Tuesday, Mr. Trump called the neo-Nazis at the protests “bad people” but defended many of those who came to the rally.

“It looked like they had some rough, bad people, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them,” the president said. “But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest.”

Jewish supporters of Mr. Trump outside the administration also were largely quiet on Wednesday. Sheldon Adelson, the Jewish megadonor from Las Vegas, who was an avid supporter of Mr. Trump’s campaign, did not issue a statement.

Michael D. Cohen, the president’s longtime personal lawyer, who is Jewish, defended Mr. Trump in response to a reporter’s question on Wednesday.

“I know President Trump and his heart,” Mr. Cohen wrote. “He is a good man and doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. All morning I am receiving horrific comments about being anti-black, racist, etc. for supporting Trump. It’s just wrong!”

Mr. Cohen emphatically denounced “white supremacy, white nationalism, Nazi beliefs and hatred of anyone based on race, religion, creed, color or sexual orientation.” But he added: “Trump is not a racist and neither am I. The attacks against him and all of us who support him are disgusting, disgraceful and hurtful.”

Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser who was fired after publishing racially charged Facebook posts, also came to the president’s defense.

“I have spent thousands of hours with this man. He does not have one anti-Semitic bone in his body,” Mr. Nunberg, who is Jewish, said in a telephone interview. Mr. Nunberg condemned the neo-Nazi protesters as “a bunch of disgusting people. A bunch of people saying anti-Semitic stuff.”

He added that he was disappointed with Mr. Trump’s comments on Tuesday because they were open to interpretation and misunderstanding. He said Mr. Trump should have simply said that he stood by his previous comments about the protests.

Mr. Nunberg said he did not believe Mr. Mnuchin or Mr. Cohn should make their views publicly known.

“It’s a no-win situation for them,” Mr. Nunberg said. “If Mr. Mnuchin or Mr. Cohn issues a statement, then what? They are supposed to resign? They have a responsibility to carry out their jobs.”

Representative Lee Zeldin, a Jewish Republican from New York, came to the president’s defense for noting that there was violence on both sides, though he added that “these two sides are not equal. They are different.”

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