Former White House economic advisor Gary Cohn dodges question about whether Trump asked him to 'print money'

  • "Just run the presses — print money," President Trump told his top economic advisor, Gary Cohn, according to an explosive book written by Bob Woodward that was published earlier this year.
  • Asked directly by CNBC's Scott Wapner if the president asked him to print money, Cohn demurred.
  • Wapner asked again: "I get it, but did the president ask you to do that to deal with the deficit?"

One of the many morsels of palace intrigue found in Bob Woodward's explosive book about the Trump administration published earlier this year revealed one of President Donald Trump's curious strategies to reduce the U.S. deficit.

"Just run the presses — print money," Trump told his top economic advisor, Gary Cohn, according to Woodward's account. Cohn, who entered the White House from Goldman Sachs despite being a registered Democrat — and an ardent supporter of free trade — declined.

"You don't get to do it that way," he told the president, according to Woodward. "We have huge deficits and they matter. The government doesn't keep a balance sheet like that."

Trump has said the quotes in the book, "Fear," were made up. He called the book "a con on the public." For his part, Cohn, who resigned earlier this year, has issued what could be called a nondenial denial, saying that the book "does not accurately portray my experience at the White House."

In an interview Thursday on CNBC's "Fast Money Halftime Report," the former administration official again declined to issue an outright denial.

Asked directly by CNBC's Scott Wapner if the president asked him to print money, Cohn demurred.

"Look, the president wants to grow the U.S. economy," Cohn said, after a pause. "The president ran on a platform of growing the U.S. economy, bringing jobs back, and creating wage growth, and you're seeing that. Look at the data now. There are 7 million unfilled jobs in the United States. We are finally starting to see some wage growth in the system."

Wapner asked again, "I get it, but did the president ask you to do that to deal with the deficit?"

In response, Cohn again declined to deny Woodward's account.

"The president wants to grow the economy," he repeated. "As I said, the president really was interested in growing the economy, doing what he could within his powers, to grow the U.S. economy and bring jobs back and create wage growth. That was his plan, that was his mission."

Cohn also said during the interview that he believed the press spent too much time focusing on portrayals of chaos inside the White House. He said that what appears to be chaos is actually just the result of the president's decision to hire aides with opposing points of view.

"He's basically digesting the different points of view," Cohn said.

Woodward's book portrayed Cohn as an at-times surreptitious opponent of some of the president's policies. According to the book, Cohn told other White House staffers about removing documents from the president's desk in order to prevent him from acting on them.

In one instance, Cohn reportedly stole a draft of a letter that would have removed the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea.

Trump has denied that anyone ever removed papers from his desk. But his former national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, seemed to confirm the report.

"I know about that incident, and that was wholly appropriate for Gary Cohn, who was a wonderful public servant and a great colleague, to do," McMaster said, according to The Washington Examiner.

In yet another Cohn anecdote from Woodward's book, the veteran investigative reporter wrote that Cohn attempted to resign after Trump blamed "both sides" for the deadly August 2017 confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a reported white nationalist struck and killed a protester with his car. The driver has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge.

Cohn drafted a resignation letter and delivered it to the president, according to Woodward. The president told him that the resignation letter was "treason."

The former economic advisor ultimately resigned in March, following Trump's announcement that he would slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, a plan that Cohn opposed.

Asked Thursday if he was still a supporter of the president, Cohn said that there were many topics that the two agreed on.