Steve Bannon lauds Trump's new trade deal – and unleashes on Gary Cohn

  • Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is celebrating the newly struck trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada by going on the offensive against former top Trump economic advisor Gary Cohn.
  • In an interview with CNBC, Bannon blamed Cohn for delaying the pact.
  • While Cohn didn't respond to requests for comment, a former administration official who worked with Cohn in the White House defended the former Goldman Sachs president.
Steve Bannon and Gary Cohn
Don Emmert | AFP | Getty Images; Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Steve Bannon and Gary Cohn

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is celebrating the newly struck trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada by going on the offensive against former top Trump economic advisor Gary Cohn.

In a wide-ranging interview with CNBC, Bannon blamed Cohn for delaying the pact. He also argued that the new trade deal proves that the former Goldman Sachs executive gave poor advice to President Donald Trump.

"It wouldn't have taken six months had it not been for Gary Cohn. There wouldn't have had to be an 11th-hour agreement," Bannon said Monday.

He cited an incident in Bob Woodward's book "Fear" as an example of how he believes Cohn, who was director of the National Economic Council, was interfering with the administration's efforts to move ahead with its nationalist trade agenda. Bannon took particular issue with Cohn allegedly secretly removing a letter intended for the South Korean government, which, if it was sent, would have signaled the end of a six-year free trade agreement.

Cohn did not reply to requests for comment on Bannon's remarks. Last month, Cohn told Axios that Woodward's book "does not accurately portray my experience at the White House."

Bannon went on to describe the hiring of Cohn over the current leader of the NEC, former CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow, at the start of the administration as a "terrible idea." He also said that the president's son in law, Jared Kushner, "pushed" Trump to hire Cohn in the first place. The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Gary Cohn has been dead wrong about everything he told Trump," and "everything Cohn said was 100 percent wrong on trade," he added.

While Cohn didn't respond to requests for comment, a former administration official who worked with Cohn in the White House defended the former Goldman Sachs president's approach to trade. The former aide, who declined to be named, said Cohn always hoped to see a change to the North American Free Trade Agreement and worked on the negotiations throughout his tenure.

"Gary was very much for the modernization of NAFTA, but we didn't want to distract the Senate, and NAFTA ultimately must go through the Senate," said the former administration official. "Staying out of the tariff game was in everyone's interest, and it was the right move, as we got tax reform done and the economy is responding as we predicted."

Bannon, also a former Goldman Sachs banker, called the bank "the investor relations of the Chinese regime." The former White House chief strategist and Trump campaign boss was once an investment banker at the firm only to leave in the 1990s to create his own company, "Bannon & Co."

Both in public and private, Cohn has spoken out against implementing tariffs as a way to force trading partners to the table and renegotiate deals such as NAFTA. In an interview with CNBC in May, two months after resigning from the administration, Cohn made it clear where he stood on trade barriers.

"If we artificially raise the price of goods because of tariffs, we're hurting our service economy. That's not in our best interest. So putting on input tariffs is not the objective for me." Cohn said at the time.

Bannon, on the other hand, was one of the architects of a trade policy that would apply tariffs against trading U.S. partners as a negotiating tool and a way to combat China taking advantage of global alliances.

"China have gamed the system to use Mexico to gain materials. China has always been taking advantage of the rules and they understand this morning that this is not about a trade war. This is about the realignment of the global supply chain," Bannon said on Monday.

Trump previously enacted tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods in September.

The details of what Trump is calling the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA, includes easing Canada's protections on their dairy market, giving U.S. farmers greater access to the Canadian market. The U.S. also backed off its demand of eliminating a tariff dispute settlement system. The deal would also spare Canada and Mexico from threatened auto tariffs.

The agreement was widely hailed as a political win for Trump. The president repeatedly labeled NAFTA as unfair to the United States. Mexico had had struck a deal with the U.S. and the administration had threatened to toss Canada out of the arrangement if they didn't concede to Trump's demands.