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A Gary Cohn resignation would 'crash the markets,' management guru Jeffrey Sonnenfeld says

  • Investors are counting on Trump aide Gary Cohn to help push through tax reform, Yale management expert Jeffrey Sonnenfeld tells CNBC.
  • The New York Times reported that Cohn is "upset" and "disgusted" with Trump's response to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
  • "I think if he steps away, it would crash the markets," Sonnenfeld says.

The markets would crash if top White House economic adviser Gary Cohn resigns, Yale School of Management's Jeffrey Sonnenfeld told CNBC on Thursday.

"I don't want to be an alarmist, but there is a lot of faith that he is going to help carry through the tax reform that people are looking for," Sonnenfeld said on "Squawk Box."

"I think if he steps away, it would crash the markets," he said.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Cohn, who is Jewish, was "upset" and "disgusted" with President Donald Trump's response to Saturday's deadly white nationalist rally in Virginia.

The extreme right protesters were heard shouting anti-Semitic slogans as they marched through Charlottesville.

During a heated press conference Tuesday, Trump defended his comments that "both sides" were to blame for the violence over the weekend that left a counterprotester dead.

That prompted several members of Trump's advisory councils to announce their resignations, which caused Trump to eventually dissolve the councils entirely.

"A number of people" on Wall Street and at Cohn's former firm Goldman Sachs have called him to suggest that he resign from the administration, said CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin, who also writes for the Times.

A White House official told CNBC on Thursday "Gary intends to remain in his position as NEC Director at the White House. Nothing's changed." The official later clarified to say, "Nothing has changed. Gary is focused on his responsibilities as NEC Director and any reports to the contrary are 100% false."

A Cohn resignation could be a hit to Trump's plans to revamp the tax code. Some analysts suggest that the promise of tax reform and other pro-business legislation by Trump is partly responsible for the stock market's rise since the election.

John Engler, former president of Business Roundtable advocacy group, said on "Squawk on the Street" on Thursday he hopes Cohn stays.

"I think he's a star of the administration. He's an important figure on figuring out how we're going to go forward with both tax reform and infrastructure," said Engler, a Republican who had served three terms as governor of Michigan.

The new White House chief of staff, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, needs to keep the administration focused on policy changes, Engler said. "[But] it's tough when the guy at the top has got his own mind and willing to speak through Twitter," he added.

Trump took to Twitter again on Thursday to denounce the removal of "beautiful" Confederate statutes.

In a note to clients on Thursday, BMO Capital Markets said the markets have turned their focus to Cohn and his commitment to the administration. The firm said it is reluctant to make too much out of media chatter "other than simply a nod to the risk as the market enters a relatively quiet period."

Earlier this year, several news outlets speculated that Cohn would be the leading candidate to replace Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen once her term ends in February.

Before joining the Trump administration, Cohn was the No. 2 executive Goldman.

Sonnenfeld also spoke on the decisions for CEOs to abandon Trump's councils. He said if JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon had spoken out sooner other leaders would have followed suit much faster.

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