Gary Cohn reportedly swiped letters from Trump's desk calling for withdrawal from key trade pacts

Key Points
  • Gary Cohn was the director of the National Economic Council from January 2017 through March 2018, a role that made him the White House's top economic advisor.
  • A new book says Cohn took a letter off President Trump's desk that would have withdrawn the U.S. from a trade agreement with South Korea and he took a draft notification of a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA.
  • Cohn told former White House aide Rob Porter "I can stop this."
Gary Cohn, former director of the U.S. National Economic Council in 2017.
Getty Images

President Donald Trump might have pulled the U.S. out of trade agreements with South Korea as well as Canada and Mexico if a few pieces of paper hadn't gone missing from his desk thanks to former White House economic advisor Gary Cohn.

A new bombshell book by journalist Bob Woodward says Cohn took letters off Trump's desk that would have formally withdrawn the U.S. from the trade pact with South Korea and given notice of an intent to withdraw from NAFTA, according to The Washington Post, which published excerpts on Tuesday.

Woodward is an editor at the newspaper, but the report says the book was obtained by the Post.

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Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, worked as director of the National Economic Council from January 2017 through March 2018, a post that put him in close contact with the president. His resignation came shortly after Trump announced the U.S. would be slapping tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from a variety of countries.

In an interview with Daily Caller on Tuesday, Trump denied Cohn or anyone had taken items from his desk. "That's false," the Daily Caller quoted him saying. "There was nobody taking anything from me."

The U.S. continues to be a party to both the South Korea agreement and NAFTA, though the latter is currently being renegotiated.

According to the Washington Post's account of Woodward's book, Cohn would tell an associate later that he took the South Korea letter off Trump's desk to protect national security and that Trump hadn't noticed it was missing, the report said.

He also swiped a draft notification letter prepared by former White House aide Rob Porter at the president's request to withdraw the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement. But, the report said, Porter and others worried about the move triggering an economic and foreign relations crisis, so Porter talked to Cohn, who told him, "I can stop this. I'll just take the paper off his desk."

The White House released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying, "This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad."

Read The Washington Post story here.

WATCH: CNBC's full interview with Gary Cohn

Watch CNBC's full interview with Gary Cohn