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Donald Trump and Lloyd Blankfein have a lot in common, Gary Cohn says

  • Gary Cohn has now worked for both President Donald Trump and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
  • He says they have a lot in common, although they operate for very different client bases.
  • Both are "driven by the mission and feel like they need to get the mission accomplished," Cohn tells CNBC.

CNBC's John Harwood sat down with National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn to discuss a range of topics, including similarities he sees between President Donald Trump and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. What follows is a condensed, edited transcript of their conversation.

Harwood: Compare the construction of this tax plan that you've been a part of with the process of a major initiative at Goldman Sachs.

Cohn: It's similar in many respects, and it's different in many respects.

Harwood: Less rational, right?

Cohn: I don't think it's less or more rational. So, a major initiative at Goldman Sachs, we would literally go through and we would be very methodical, and very organized, and we would think through what we wanted to achieve, how we were going to achieve it. What would be the intended outcomes; what would be the unintended outcomes? Could we live with the unintended versus the intended? What could go wrong? What could go right? How would we solve for all of the issues? And we would test that over, and over and over again, and bring in as many smart people as we possibly could to test that scenario.

Harwood: And how is it different now?

Cohn: You only had to convince one, two, or three people to do it. At the end of the day there was a small, small group of us. In dealing with what we have to deal with in taxes, we have 400-plus members of Congress and 100 members of the Senate. So, we not only have to think about what the objective is with taxes, and tax reform. We have to think how do we get 218 votes, and how do we get 51 votes on top of understanding the intended consequences, the unintended consequences. We have to overlay that with a big political umbrella.

Harwood: Compare Donald Trump and Lloyd Blankfein as bosses.

Cohn: They've got a lot of similarities.

Harwood: What are the similarities? I'm surprised to hear you say that.

Cohn: Look, they're both very driven. They're both very passionate. They both strongly believe in what they're doing. Their core messaging is very similar. I mean, they come into the office with passion every day. And they are both driven by the mission and feel like they need to get the mission accomplished, day in and day out.

Harwood: How are they different?

Cohn: Look, a corporate setting and the White House are different settings. You know, one's an elected official with a very public persona, one's a CEO with a fairly private persona and driving messaging inside the private persona where your clients don't really want to see you make news. Where on the other side, where your clients want to see you make news, which is the electorate, you approach those two things from a very different perspective. So, they're both managing their clients very effectively. And I think they both understand who their client base is, and they manage their client base effectively.

Read more from the Gary Cohn Speakeasy interview:
... on keeping companies in America.
... on repealing the estate tax.
... on Cohn's plan after tax reform.
... on the value of trickle-down economics.