Let’s talk Trump Stink. It’s everywhere. And it’s really reeking this morning. Just ask Donald Trump administration officials Matthew Pottinger, Mick Mulvaney, Stephanie Grisham, Elaine Chao, Anna Cristina Niceta, Sarah Matthews, and Marc Short, all of whom reportedly resigned from or, in Short’s case, was locked out of the White House in the wake of Trump’s failed coup attempt. Other rats—Robert O’Brien, the deputy national security adviser, and Chris Liddell, the deputy chief of staff—were also said to be thinking about jumping off Trump’s Titanic. The Trump Stink is also splattered all over Kelly Loeffler (despite a modicum of contrition she showed Wednesday night in not joining an electoral-vote challenge) and David Perdue. The two Republican U.S. senators, from Georgia, are only the latest elected officials to suffer political defeat because of their association with Donald Trump, the Biggest Loser. There are so many others, and more are soon to come as the hoary Trump Debacle comes to an end. (Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley anyone?)
But what about our old friends from Wall Street who thought it might be cagey to spend some time in Washington working for the 45th president of the United States? How’d that work out for them?
For some, such as Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s lapdog of a Treasury secretary, and Wilbur Ross���remember him?—Trump’s octogenarian commerce secretary, it’s too early to tell what they’ll do when they leave Washington. Neither man managed to distinguish himself—that goes almost without saying—but each will likely find a post-Trump sinecure. Ross, now 83 and still very wealthy, can hang at his mansion in Palm Beach, not far from Trump at Mar-a-Lago. His days on Wall Street—he had his own private-equity firm and was once a leading restructuring banker at Rothschild—are probably over. Mnuchin, on the other hand, will likely swivel right through the proverbial revolving door and end up at some tony hedge fund, or private-equity firm, many of which are plenty thankful for his role in getting the 2017 tax bill through Congress. The law cut the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35% and turned into a cash-spewing bonanza for Corporate America, while also—let’s not forget—contributing to increasing the national debt to a whopping $27 trillion (and counting). People like Mnuchin always find a way.
For others, curiously, the association with Trump seems to have been less of a poison than might have been feared. Take, for instance, the Mooch, a.k.a., Anthony Scaramucci, who famously served as Trump’s director of communications for 11 days, a time period that now has entered the lexicon as being equal to one Mooch. (Trump, for instance, has just over one Mooch left in the Oval Office.) Thanks to his dramatic defenestration from the West Wing, in July 2017, and his active participation in the Lincoln Project, the group created by a number of high-profile Republicans to oppose Trump and his reelection, Scaramucci has emerged from his association with Trump with his reputation relatively intact, and arguably enhanced. He is a regular talking head on CNN, and on other cable-television channels, and has used his platform to preach the anti-Trump gospel. True, the former Goldman Sachs banker’s hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital, had a rough 2020—the fund was down about 7.5%, its worst year since 2008—but his newly created Bitcoin fund has benefited from the Bitcoin tear of the last month or so. That fund is up some $100 million in profit on a $175 million investment made in November, according to the Financial Times.
Dina Powell McCormick has kept a much lower profile than the Mooch since she departed the Trump White House in January 2018, after serving about a year on the National Security Council as a deputy to H.R. McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser. Soon after departing Washington, McCormick returned to Goldman Sachs as a partner and she joined the firm’s powerful and exclusive management committee. At the end of 2020, she was promoted by David Solomon, the Goldman CEO, to run the firm’s commitment to global sustainability. She also continues to run Goldman’s efforts to win business from sovereign wealth funds around the world. She also got remarried after she left Washington—to David McCormick, the CEO of Bridgewater Associates, the $160 billion hedge fund founded by billionaire Ray Dalio. Both the Mooch and McCormick managed to escape Trumpworld with their dignity intact, a feat easier said than done.
But what about Gary Cohn, another Goldman Sachs veteran who spent 14 months as Trump’s first director of the National Economic Council and as an adviser to the president on economic policy? Is he toxic? Cohn, you will recall, was the former president and chief operating officer at Goldman Sachs—essentially the number two executive at the firm when Lloyd Blankfein was the CEO. When, around the time of the 2016 presidential election, Cohn’s own power play to succeed Blankfein failed, he left Goldman. Jared Kushner introduced Cohn, a lifelong Democrat, to Trump. After a few meetings at Trump Tower during the transition, Trump offered Cohn a top job in his administration. They had never met before the election. Cohn quickly accepted Trump’s offer.
Lots of people thought Cohn was nuts to associate with Trump. But Cohn believed he could do more good working at Trump’s elbow day after day than he could from an outside perch. He hoped to temper Trump’s baser instincts. How quaint. He also likely figured working in the White House would be a resume enhancer. While Mnuchin got the credit publicly for shepherding the 2017 tax cut through Congress, it was really Cohn who was the driving force. Despite repeated public clashes—especially over Trump’s statements after the deadly Charlottesville protests—Cohn was basically a good soldier. He pined for another position in Washington. Maybe as Trump’s chief of staff, or as chairman of the Federal Reserve? Neither job materialized.
Cohn quit in March 2018, having witnessed on a daily basis Trump’s vile and incompetent behavior. He shared nothing publicly about Trump and his atrocious antics. (He was likely a blind source for Bob Woodward’s 2020 book, Rage. Cohn shared with me, in April 2018, plenty of revealing anecdotes about his daily visits with Trump in the Oval Office but then refused to let me publish them.) Why risk a nasty presidential tweet, or a future business opportunity? Why do the right thing? After all, he was getting between $200,000 and $250,000 a pop for speaking gigs and started investing in a number of start-ups, and he now serves on the boards of companies with names such as Abyrx, Gro Intelligence, Indago, Nanopay, and Starling. He is also the chairman of the board of Pallas Advisors, a Washington consulting firm.